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Freedom of the Media: The Near v. Minnesota 1931 Case


Free media are designed to ensure that the government provides information to its citizens in the United States, and citizens can control the government. The U.S. press offers a wide field of expression, limiting government action by law and representing a wide variety of ideas. The highest institution in the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s provisions is the U.S. Supreme Court, which decides both the understanding of constitutional norms and compliance with the U.S. Constitution of individual laws or decisions of lower courts.

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Supreme Court Decision

Civil rights must be protected by laws that rise above executive prerogatives and constitutions that have supremacy over statutes. For this reason, freedom of the press must be removed not only from possible administrative restrictions but also from legal regulations. The U.S. laws protecting intellectual freedom are primarily based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1791 (Ginsberg et al., 2018). After the Near v. Minnesota 1931 case, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated state laws that allowed officials to ban the publication of “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory” newspapers (Ginsberg et al., 2018). The Court ruled that any censorship would be contrary to the First Amendment.

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court noted the admissibility of restrictions on the publication of data on troops’ movement in wartime, obscene materials, and direct calls for acts of violence. It has decisively impeded attempts to restrict press freedom even in cases where official departments have stated that the publication of certain materials in the media poses a threat to national security (Chemerinsky, 2018). In this sense, the 1971 New York Times v. The United States judgment should be the most prominent example.

Brief History of the Case

The plot of the 1971 New York Times v. The United States case is that the administration of President Richard Nixon tried to obtain an injunction banning the publication in the New York Times and Washington Post of previously classified materials concerning American participation in the Vietnam War. On 13th June 1971, the New York Times started publishing a classified Pentagon document on Vietnam’s state of affairs (Chemerinsky, 2018). While President Nixon publicly announced the imminent U.S. victory in Vietnam, the published army document, by contrast, indicated an impending military defeat (Chemerinsky, 2018). The U.S. government immediately sued, and the newspaper’s publication of the paper’s continuation was banned (Chemerinsky, 2018). Then another newspaper, the Washington Post, republished its part; the government immediately filed a lawsuit and prohibited the press from publishing this document.

What Question Was Before the Court?

At this point, the Supreme Court intervened according to the newspapers’ statement, in wartime, a document stolen from the Pentagon and labeled secret. The decision was precise – to permit (Chemerinsky, 2018). However, all nine judges wrote their opinions. For example, Judge Hugo Black believed that the first amendment to the constitution on freedom of speech and press was the most important, and the fact that the document was stolen and that it was stamped “top secret” does not matter (New York Times Co. v. United States, 1971). Judge Hugo Black pointed that “in seeking injunctions against these newspapers, and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment (Chemerinsky, 2018, p.66). The views of other judges were more balanced, but by a vote of 6 to 3, the Supreme Court forbade the government to obstruct the document’s publication.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government, in its attempts to ban high-profile publications, still failed to convince it that the publications in question would cause direct, immediate, and irreparable destruction to the national interests of the United States. Moreover, as stated in the decision, the most crucial part of the press’s responsibility is the obligation to prevent the government or its organs from sending people to remote areas of the earth to die from overseas diseases, shots, and bullets (New York Times Co. v. United States, 1971). The Court ruled that the government has no right to prevent the publication of the paper of such public interest.

Effects of the Ruling

The case revealed that the history of the First Amendment’s development and language unequivocally supports the idea that the press has the freedom to print news regardless of source, without censorship, court orders, or other preliminary findings. I agree with this decision, as it became prevalent to involve the free press in exposing political leaders’ unsightly actions. The press was increasingly viewed as a means of muckraking. Democratic support for the media in the USA is also based on the belief that with an adequate understanding of the state of affairs in the country and the world, people will choose those political institutions that will best preserve and protect fundamental civil rights.

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Independent media have two main functions in information policy: control political power and educate people about issues affecting their lives. These days, the ruling should be modernized as there is little to no legal regulation of the Internet in the United States. However, there is a general idea that it is necessary to register broadband providers with the FCC, as is the practice for telephone campaigns. Moreover, this decision should not be construed as entirely precluding any prior authorization to publish. However, it clarifies that the government bears the exclusive burden of proving the validity of all attempts to prevent specific data publication in the media. In other words, the press should not explain why it should publish any particular material. The presumption, confirmed by a court decision, is extended to statements that could potentially become the subject of restrictions.


Chemerinsky, E. (2018). The First Amendment. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.

Ginsberg, B., Lowi, T., J., Campbell, A., L., Weir, M., & Tolbert, C., J (2018). We the People (12th ed.). W W NORTON & Company.

New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S. Ct. 2140, 29 L. Ed. 2d 822 (1971). Web.

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