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Legal Brief of Near v. Minnesota by David A.W. Hittle Case #3 of 10

Near v. Minnesota

283 U.S. 697; 51 S.Ct. 625; 75 L.Ed. 1357 (1931)

Vote: 5-4

 

The Facts of the case are these: Chapter 285 of the Sessions Laws on Minnesota for the year 1925 provides for the abatement, as a public nuisance, of a “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical. Under this statute the country attorney of Hennepin County brought this action to enjoin the publication known as The Saturday Press. The complaint alleged that the defendants, on September 24, 1927 and on eight subsequent dates in October and November 1927, published and circulated editions of that periodical which were “largely devoted to malicious, scandalous, and defamatory articles” concerning various public officials and others…

 

The Issues in this case are these: 1. Does Chapter 285 of Minnesota Law violate the Constitution of the United States? 2. Does a state have the right to abate a newspaper, magazine or periodical?

 

The Decision of the Court by a vote of 5 to 4 finds: Does Chapter 285 of Minnesota Law violates the Constitution of the United States? Yes, the Court finds that the “liberty of the press and of speech is within the liberty safeguarded by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state actions.” Does a state have the right to abate a newspaper, magazine or periodical? No, due to the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause press and speech is “safeguarded” from “invasion by state actions.”

 

Mr. Chief Justice Hughes opines of the Majority: “This statute, for the suppression as a public nuisance of a newspaper or periodical, is unusual, if not unique, and raises questions of grave importance transcending the local interests involved in the particular action. It is not longer open to doubt that the liberty of the press and of speech is within the liberty safeguarded by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action.” He further states: “Liberty of speech and of the press is not an absolute right, and the state may punish its abuse. Liberty, in each of its phases, has its history and connotation and, in the present instance, the inquiry is as to the historic conception of liberty of the press and whether the statute under review violates the essential attributes of that liberty….” He concludes by stating: “For these reasons we hold the statute, so far as it authorized the proceedings in this action under clause (b) of section one, to be an infringement of the liberty of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.“

 

Mr. Justice Butler, Van Devanter, McReynolds, and Sutherland join dissenting: The justices opine: “The decision of the Court in this case declares Minnesota and every state powerless to restrain by injunction the business of publishing and circulating among the people malicious, scandalous and defamatory periodicals that in due course of judicial procedure have been adjudged to be a public nuisance.” They further opine: “The Minnesota statute does not operate as a previous restraint on publication within the proper meaning of that phrase.” The justices conclude with: “The doctrine that measures such as the one before use are invalid because they operate as previous restraints to infringe freedom of press exposes the peace and good order of every community and the business and private affairs of every individual to the constant and protracted false and malicious assaults of any insolvent publisher who may have purpose and sufficient capacity to contrive and put into effect a scheme or program for oppression, blackmail or extortion.”

 

The significance of this case is that: States cannot interfere with the publication of an article of press or of an article of speech before it has been published. The Court found that Minnesota’s law violates the 14th Amendment’s Due Process guarantees’ as provided for in the First Amendment.