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Near v. Minnesota

    Citation. 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625, 75 L. Ed. 1357, 1931 U.S. 175.

    Brief Fact Summary. A Minnesota state statute provided for the abatement, as a public nuisance, of a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical.” The statute provided further that there “shall be available for the defense that the truth was published with good motives and for justifiable ends.”

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In determining the extent of constitutional protection, it has been generally, if not universally, considered that it is the chief purpose of the guaranty of liberty of the press to prevent previous restraints upon publication. The protection as to previous restraint is not absolutely unlimited, but the limitation has been recognized only in exceptional cases.


    Facts. In November, 1927, a county attorney sought to invoke this statute against The Saturday Press, which had run a series of articles charging “in substance that a Jewish gangster was in control of gambling, bootlegging and racketeering in Minneapolis, and that law enforcing officers and agencies were not energetically performing their duties.” The Saturday Press was especially critical of the Chief of Police, who was charged with “gross neglect of duty, illicit relations with gangsters and with participation in graft.” The state trial court, pursuant to the statute, perpetually enjoined The Saturday Press and its owners from publishing or circulating “any publication whatsoever which is a malicious, scandalous or defamatory newspaper.”

    Issue. Is the Minnesota state statute consistent with the constitutional guarantee of liberty of the press?

    Held. The statute in question, so far as it authorized the proceedings in this action, is an infringement of the liberty of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Constitution). Therefore, the judgment should be reversed.

    Dissent. The judgment should be affirmed. The Minnesota state statute does not operate as a previous restraint on publication within the proper meaning of that phrase.

    Discussion. The court cited, by way of example, certain classes of cases that might be subject to previous restraint, including: (1) the prevention or obstructing military recruiting or (2) the location of soldiers or (3) obscene publications. However, the case before the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) did not rise to that level. In this case, the paper was to be suppressed unless the publisher was able to prove that the charges were true and that they were published with good motives and for justifiable ends. Therefore, unless a truly exceptional circumstance, such as those listed by the Supreme Court, exists, the onus should not be on the press to prove that it is justified. Placing this burden upon the press would, otherwise, be an unconstitutional previous restraint.

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