The appellee challenges the Florida statute, a right of reply statute that provides that if a candidate for nomination or election is assailed regarding his personal character by any newspaper, the candidate has the right to demand that the newspaper print any reply the candidate may make to the newspaper’s charges.The appellee argues that government has an obligation to ensure that a wide variety of views reach the public.
A responsible press is a desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.
The appellee, Executive Director of the Classroom Teachers Association, apparently a teachers’ collective-bargaining agent, was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. Appellant printed editorials critical of appellee’s candidacy. In response, appellee demanded that appellant print verbatim his replies, defending the role of the Classroom Teachers Association and the organization’s accomplishments for the citizens of Dade County.Appellant declined to print the appellee’s replies. Appellee brought suit premised on Florida statute, a right of reply statute that provides that if a candidate for nomination or election is assailed regarding his personal character by any newspaper, the candidate has the right to demand that the newspaper print any reply the candidate may make to the newspaper’s charges.
Does the state statute granting a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper violate the guarantees of a free press?
Yes, the Florida statute amounts to a restriction of appellant’s right to speak because the statute in question prevented the newspaper editorial from saying anything it wished. The Florida statute operates as a command in the same sense as a statute forbidding appellant to publish specified matter. Governmental restraint on publishing need not fall into familiar or traditional patterns to be subject to constitutional limitations on governmental powers.The Florida statute exacts a penalty on the basis of the content of the newspaper and thus it violates the Constitution.
Even if a newspaper would face no additional costs to comply with a compulsory access law and would not be forced to forgo publication of news or opinion by the inclusion of a reply, the Florida statute fails to clear the barriers of the First Amendment because of its intrusion into the function of editors. A newspaper is more than a passive receptacle or conduit for news, comment, and advertising. The choice of material to go into a newspaper and the decisions made as to limitations on the size and the content of the paper, and the treatment of public issues and public officials constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment. Florida, however, failed to show how governmental regulation of this crucial process can be exercised consistent with First Amendment guarantees of a free press.