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Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart

    Citation. 22 Ill.427 U.S. 539, 96 S. Ct. 2791, 49 L. Ed. 2d 683, 1 Med. L. Rptr. 1064 (1976)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Stuart (Respondent), a State District Judge, entered a restraining order, keeping the press from publishing accounts regarding the murder of six persons. The Petitioner, the Nebraska Press Association (Petitioner), sought review to determine whether the Respondent’s order abrogated its freedom of the press.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. While in some circumstances, it may be beneficial to suppress the press when it can be shown that a criminal defendant will endure irreparable prejudice if publication is allowed, a Judge who wishes to do so must consider the First Amendment constitutional protections afforded to the press.

    Facts. On October 18, 1975, the police found that six members of the Kellie family had been murdered. The crime attracted widespread media coverage and both the prosecutor and defense attorney sought an order restraining coverage of the murders, to deter the potential prejudicial affect on a future jury. The Nebraska Supreme Court modified the restraining order and then affirmed it as modified. The Petitioner sought review of the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court).

    Issue. The issue presented in this case is whether the press can be suppressed, in the interest of an ongoing criminal investigation.

    Held. Reversed.
    The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the lower courts needed to determine whether alternative measures (in comparison to suppression of the press) were feasible considering the circumstances of the case. The Supreme Court found that there was no determination as to whether alternative measures would have protected the potential defendant and thus the restraining order was invalid as it was unnecessarily burdensome.
    The Supreme Court also noted jurisprudence, which stood for the proposition that pretrial publicity does not intrude on the right to a fair trial.
    Concurrence. :
    Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) concurred, noting that resorting to prior restraints in protection of one’s rights to a fair trial is not justified when Judges have alternative means of handling dissemination of information.
    Justice Byron White (J. White) also concurred, doubting that any order restraining the freedom of the press would likely be unconstitutional.
    Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) concurred also considering the doctrine of prior restraints and noting that they should only be available when it is shown that irreparable injury will befall a criminal defendant if the press is not suppressed.

    Discussion. The freedom of the press extends to criminal as well as civil matters. In this case, it was not appropriate to suppress the dissemination without a showing of irreparable injury to the criminal defendant.


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