Brief Fact Summary. The Appellee, Tornillo (Appellee), brought suit seeking to force the Appellant, Miami Herald Publishing Co. (Appellant), to print a reply to an article, published by the Appellant, which was critical of Appellee’s candidacy for the Florida House of Representatives. The Appellee based his contentions on a Florida Statute, which granted him the right of reply.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A newspaper cannot be compelled to print a reply to its articles, which would necessarily be an abrogation of it’s own freedom of speech.
The power of a privately owned newspaper to advance its own political, social, and economic views is bounded by only two factors: first, the acceptance of a sufficient number of readers--and hence advertisers--to assure financial success; and, second, the journalistic integrity of its editors and publishers.View Full Point of Law
Issue. The issue presented in this case is whether a “right of reply” statute is valid, which it creates duties in abrogation of a newspaper’s rights.
Held. Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger). Reversed.
The Supreme Court found the statute to be invalid, noting that it exacted a penalty based on the content of the newspaper, which could serve to suppress the free speech protected by the Appellant’s First Amendment constitutional rights.
Concurrence. Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) concurred, noting the difference between “right of reply” statutes, which impose a negative duty (punishment) on the newspaper and “retraction” statutes, which do not force the newspaper to adhere to the viewpoints of others.
Discussion. A political figure is necessarily unable to bring a slander claim and should be afforded some ability to protect his/her name. However, this cannot stand in the way of the First Amendment freedom of the press.