Freedom of Press


The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press." The Supreme Court has vigorously upheld this right, blocking all attempts at prior restraint- the blocking of a story before it is published or broadcast.



The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press. The Court has been a very strong opponent on any attempt to impose prior restraint on the press, i.e., stopping the publication of an article before it comes out. The first case to test this in the Supreme Court was the case of Near v. Minnesota (1931) . The issue was a Minnesota law banning “malicious, scandalous and defamatory”. While the Near was clearly malicious, scandalous and defamatory, the court ruled that prior restraint could only be applied in exceptional cases.
In 1971, in the case of United States v. New York Times, the Court ruled against the attempts of the US government to restrain the publishing of the Pentagon Papers.

During the twentieth century, African-American organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), continually challenged segregation in the courts. In 1950, the Supreme Court ruled that separate Texas law schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional. On May 7, 1954, the Court issued the decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was not acceptable, and that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal. Outlawing segregation and actually assuring that schools became integrated, however, were two separate matters. In 1957, President Eisenhower was forced to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to integrate the public schools there. Integration still proceeded slowly so that, by 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the days of integration at all deliberate speed were over, and that all schools had to be integrated immediately.

The decision in the Brown case had no impact on the question of public accommodations however, so civil rights organizations began a sustained campaign to integrate southern public institutions. This led President Kennedy to propose the Civil Rights Act of 1963, which Congress passed easily after Kennedy's assasination.