First Amendment: Freedom of the Press (1791)

The Founders saw the right to publish one’s views as a natural right, and considered a free press a means of ensuring justice in government. While written to apply to actions of the federal government, the Supreme Court incorporated the amendment into state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment in the case Near v. Minnesota (1931).

The Virginia Declaration of Rights was a precursor to this amendment, holding that “the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”

Supreme Court cases centered on press freedom include New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), New York Times v. United States (1971), and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1989).

The Alien and Sedition Acts presented the first challenge to freedom of the press in the early republic, outlawing speech that was critical of government. Matthew Lyon was the first person jailed under this law, for his printed criticism of President John Adams.