Near v. Minnesota

Following is the case brief for Near v. Minnesota, United States Supreme Court, (1931)

Case summary for Near v. Minnesota:

  • Near was prevented from publishing “The Saturday Press” under a state statute which prevented the publication of “malicious, scandalous and defamatory” periodicals.
  • This specific publication was known to publish racial slurs regarding public officials, specifically Olsen.
  • When the state court found for Olsen, Near appealed, claiming the statute violated the 14th Amendment’s freedom of the press.
  • The Court held that the statute acted as a prior restraint on the speech of the press, violating the 14th Amendment.

Near v. Minnesota Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

A state statute prevented the publication of a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory, newspaper, magazine or other periodical.” Malice may be inferred from mere publication. Individuals found in violation of the statute could have an injunction issued against them to prevent publication, in addition to a fine or imprisonment. The Saturday Press, distributed by Near, criticized racial groups and issued racial insults regarding state officials, including Olson. In response, Olson filed a claim against Near stating that the magazine created a public nuisance in violation of a state statute. The trial court found for Olson and Near appealed.

Procedural History:

The state supreme court affirmed the lower court’s decision and Near appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Courts may not order an injunction on the publication of periodicals which may be “malicious, scandalous or defamatory” since the order would equate to a prior restraint on the freedom of the press.

Issue and Holding:

Does a state law which allows an Injunction to be ordered against publications determined to be malicious scandalous or defamatory as a public nuisance violate the 14th Amendment? Yes.

Judgment:

The Court reversed and remanded the state supreme court’s decision.

Reasoning:

The Minnesota statute is aimed at completely ceasing publication of print media that is deemed “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory” instead of punishing the conduct.

The Court held the suppression of the offending media, placed the publisher under a sort of censorship since one the work is deemed to be one of the above, the publication must cease and cannot continue without changing the content.

The Court held that the issue is whether the statute, which restrains media content can be consistent with the First Amendment’s freedom of the press. The liberty of the press has historically been regarded as vital to democracy. The liberty interest was specifically upheld by the Framers once they broke away from England. The Court stated that the freedom of the press guarantee is restricted to not imposing prior restraints on publications, not to be mistaken with warranting freedom from censorship for criminal matters once the publication occurs.

The court order constitutes prior restraint, because the restraining order restricts the speech from even being published.

The law cannot be justified through showing that before a restraining order is issued that the publisher may prove the content is true and published in good-faith with good motives. Doing so would give the court too much discretion in deciding what equates to good motives.

The statute violates the 14th Amendment’s protection of the freedom of the press because it cannot be applied in a manner that does not censure publications and publishers in an improper way.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Butler)

Today’s decision is extremely broad and equates to a complete deprivation of the power for states to enter injunctions prohibiting publication of “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory” media. The majority should have held that the state of Minnesota has a compelling interest in restricting the publishing of media that is offensive regarding state’s officials.

Significance:

This case outlined the details included in the freedom of the press. A statute which bans speech before it is published acts as a prior restraint and in unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/283/697/case.html
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/283/697

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