Near v. Minnesota
|We the People do ordain and establish this|
|Standards of review|
|Other legal theories|
|Defining moments in law|
“”The fact that the liberty of the press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not make any the less necessary the immunity of the press from previous restraint in dealing with official misconduct.
|—Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Opinion of the Court.|
Near v. Minnesota was a landmark case argued before the United States Supreme Court regarding whether the government could prevent the nation's press from publishing. The Court found that prior restraints on publication violated the First Amendment's freedom of the press protections. It was the first significant Supreme Court case regarding America's free press.
It became a key part of free speech jurisprudence and was the major precedent cited by the Court in the New York Times Co. v. United States case which invalidated the Nixon administration's attempt to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers. It also greatly expanded the press' ability to publish whatever material they so chose, as the Court specifically noted that injunctions against the press are unconstitutional regardless of the fact that Near's publication was responsible for false, bad-faith articles.
Facts of the case
Jay M. Near, publisher of The Saturday Morning Press, was a bit of a bastard. He was anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black, and anti-labor and didn't hesitate to express these views in his publication. More specifically, his rag asserted that Jewish "gangs" were secretly ruling the city of Minneapolis, that the police were taking bribes, and that the governor of Minnesota was a moron.
Naturally, Minnesota's officials didn't like that. They sought a permanent injunction against The Saturday Morning Press on the grounds that it was defamatory and malicious, which also violated a Minnesota law against such material. Under that Minnesota law, the paper could be permanently prevented from publishing further scandalous material. Minnesota's state supreme court upheld the injunction, and Near successfully appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Decision of the Court
In a 5-4 majority, the Court held that the Minnesota law was unconstitutional on its face regardless of context. The majority stated that they viewed the injunction as an act of censorship because it was applied permanently and without any opportunity for Near's paper to change its content to lift the ban. This is, of course, inconsistent with the First Amendment. The Court also declared that law cannot be justified on the basis that Near's content was untrue and malicious, as that would then give courts and government too much discretion in determining what counted as good-faith publishing. The decision also cited the Fourteenth Amendment, since it incorporates the First and makes it applicable to the states.
The dissenting justices cited the near complete destruction of the State's ability to prevent publishing as their reasoning for upholding the law, which ended up being true once the case was applied in later instances.
- Near V. State Of Minnesota Ex Rel. Olson, Co. Atty. Legal Information Institute.
- Lewis, Anthony (1991). Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment. New York: Random House. p. 90. ISBN 0-394-58774-X.
- Near v. Minnesota U.S. Case Law Merriam-Webster Legal Dictionary.
- Fred W. Friendly. Minnesota Rag: Corruption, Yellow Journalism, and the Case That Saved Freedom of the Press.
- Near v. Minnesota (1931) Bill of Rights Institute.
- Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson Oyez.
- Near v. Minnesota Legal Dictionary