The Supreme Court of the United States The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court of the judic ial branch of the United States government. Many of the cases that make it to the supreme court are based on rights set forth by the Bill of Rights. The Bil l of Rights is comprised of the first ten amendments to the United States Consti tution, and is what this nation was founded upon. The first of these amendment s deals with freedoms given to the people, one of these freedoms being Freedom o f the Press. This freedom gives organizations the right to print and publish what they want without being told what they can and can’t publish by the governm ent.
There are of course restrictions to this such as “prior restraint” which i s the government’s right to censor material beforehand that it does not want pub lished, because it would compromise national security (Bender, 136). Prior rest raint was found unconstitutional in the Near v. Minnesota case of 1931. In this case the court ruled that an injunction to stop publication of a newspaper with objectionable material was an example of prior restraint and therefore unconsti tutional (Bender, 136). This became known as the due process clause of the 14th amendment to the constitution.
Another part of Freedom of the Press is the rig ht for people to be able to read books, and not have books removed from a public place because certain people feel they are inappropriate (Cantwell, 34). There are two cases that clearly show these two points, and how the Supr eme Court used its power to solve them. One of these cases is New York Times Co mpany v. United States in 1971 which is also k This case shows how the Supreme Court used its position as the top court to rul e against the United States executive branch (Bender, 137). Another case is Boa rd of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982. This case had to do with book censorship in a public high school library by the school board of that school (Gold, 17).
The Supreme Court has had many cases dealing with free speech, and how t he government has tried to prevent the people from seeing certain pieces of info rmation. One such example of the Supreme Court dealing was the New York Times v . United States case which took place in 1971. This case was brought up by the United States after top secret documents from the Pentagon, known as the Pentago n Papers, were leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post (Bender, 132). These documents contained information about the military presence in Vietnam tha t the U.S. government felt was a risk to national security if known by its enemi es, and therefore only 15 copies of these documents were produced.
Daniel Ellsb erg, was a high level Pentagon researcher who had legal access to the documents because he was involved in compiling and editing the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg made a photocopy of these documents and gave them to Neil Sheehan of the New Yor k Times. Once the Times had these papers, they set a team of reporters to write articles about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam based on the information contain ed in the documents. A short time later, the same Daniel Ellsberg gave parts of the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post, and that paper wrote articles about nown as the Pentagon Papers case. The federal government objected to the publication in daily newspapers o f these documents which it had deemed top secret. The government claimed that d istribution of the material in the Pentagon Papers would be damaging to the nati onal security of the United States and to its soldiers in Vietnam. Therefore th e government brought legal action against the New York Times and the Washington Post to stop them from publishing articles about this sensitive material (ACLU).
Representatives of the Times said the federal government’s attempt to st op the publication of these articles about the Pentagon Papers was an example of prior restraint. The Times contended that this would be a violation of freedom of the press, which is guaranteed in the first Amendment. The federal governme nt’s side of the argument was that the publication of this top secret informatio n would put the lives of soldiers in danger, and give assistance during wartime to enemies of the United States (Bender, 139). This case was argued in front of the Supreme Court on June 26, 1971, a r ecord of only 17 days after the conflict first arose with the publication of thi s material, and only 15 days after the first judge heard the case (Zeinert, 43). The verdict came four days later on June 30, 1971, when the court ruled 6-3 in The justices in the majority were, Justice Black, Justice Douglas, Justi ce Brennan, Justice Stewart, Justice White, and Justice Marshall.
Each of these Justices felt that for one reason or another freedom of speech was more importa nt than national security in this case, although leaving open the option that in other cases, national security could end up being more important than freedom o f speech. Justice Douglas wrote “The First Amendment provides that ‘Congress sh all make no law.. abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.’ That leave s, in my view, no room for governmental restraint on the press.” (Findlaw) Just ice Brennan thought the government might properly restrain the press in certain clear emergencies. But the circumstances of this case did not present such an e mergency, Brennan argued, that there should have been no injunctive restraint. The government sought the injunction on the grounds that the publication ‘could, ‘ ‘might,’ or ‘may’ damage national security (Findlaw).
The dissenters, Chief Justice Burger, Justice Harlan, and Justice Blackm un, all lamented the haste with which the case had been decided. They contested that the press did not deserve absolute protection from prior restraint. Burge r said that the exception which might permit prior r …