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Near v. Minnesota

Law Dictionary
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Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Sullivan

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

Brief Fact Summary. A Minnesota law that “gagged” a periodical from publishing derogatory statements about local public officials was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court).

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The freedom of press is essential to the nature of a free state but that freedom may be restricted by the government in certain situations.


Facts. The Saturday Press (the Press) published attacks on local officials. The Press claimed that the chief of police had “illicit relations with gangsters.” Minnesota officials obtained an injunction in order to abate the publishing of the Press newspaper under a state law that allowed this course of action. The state law authorized abatement, as a public nuisance, of a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, or other periodical. A state court order abated the Press and enjoined the Defendants, publishers of the Press (Defendants), from publishing or circulating such “defamatory and scandalous” periodicals.

Issue. Whether a statute authorizing such proceedings is consistent with the conception of the liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed?

Held. No. Judgment of the state court reversed. The fact that the liberty of press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not effect the requirement that the press has immunity from previous restraints when it deals with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy, consistent with the constitutional privilege. Therefore, a statute authorizing such proceedings is not consistent with the conception of the liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed and is thus, unconstitutional. The statute in question cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good motives and for justifiable ends. This statute, if upheld, could lead to a complete system of censorship. Thus, the statute is a substantial infringement on the liberty of the press and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Co
nstitution.

Dissent. This statute does not operate as a previous restraint on publication within proper meaning of that phrase.

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Discussion. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) in this case extended the presumption against prior restraint in the licensing context to judicial restraints as well.

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