Freedom of the Press

Rex v. Zenger (1735)

The colony of New York tried publisher John Peter Zenger for seditious libel against the governor. At that time, truth was not a defense in a libel case. Zenger’s attorney told the jury of their power and duty to judge the law as well as the facts, and the jury acquitted Zenger. Though not a Supreme Court case, this is a landmark freedom of the press case.

People v. Croswell (1804)

Harry Croswell was convicted of libel for printing a story critical of President Thomas Jefferson in his newspaper. Alexander Hamilton represented Croswell on appeal and argued that truth should be a defense for libel. Croswell’s conviction was upheld, but the case led New York to change its law to permit truth as a defense. Though not a Supreme Court case, this is a landmark freedom of the press case.

Near v. Minnesota (1931)

A state law allowing prior restraint was unconstitutional. This decision also extended protection of press freedom to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Read More.

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)

The First Amendment protected all statements about public officials unless the speaker lied with the intent to defame. Read More.

Garrison v. Louisiana (1964)

A Louisiana law that punished true statements made with “actual malice” was overturned. The Court ruled that unless a newspaper shows “reckless disregard for the truth,” it is protected under the First Amendment.

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts and AP v. Walker (1967)

A “public figure” who is not a public official may recover damages for a defamatory falsehood what harms his or her reputation, if the newspaper’s actions were an “extreme departure” of the standards of reporting.

New York Times v. United States (1971)

A claimed threat to national security was not justification for prior restraint on publication of classified documents (the Pentagon Papers) about the Vietnam War. Read More.

Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)

A judge’s order that the media not publish or broadcast statements by police in a murder trial was an unconstitutional prior restraint. The gag order violated the First Amendment rights of the press and the community.

Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting (1977)

The Court ruled that the First Amendment does not give a television station to right to air the entire act of a performance without the performer’s permission.

Hustler v. Falwell (1988)

The First Amendment prohibits public figures from recovering damages for intentional infliction of emotional harm unless the publication contained a false statement made with actual malice.

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

Public school officials can censor school-sponsored newspapers, because the newspapers are part of the school curriculum rather than a forum for public expression. Read More.