Butterworth v. Smith

PETITIONER: Butterworth
RESPONDENT: Smith
LOCATION: Michigan State Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 88-1993
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 494 US 624 (1990)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1990
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1990

ADVOCATES:
Gregg Darrow Thomas - on behalf of the Respondent
George L. Waas - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Butterworth v. Smith

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1990 in Butterworth v. Smith

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 21, 1990 in Butterworth v. Smith

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in Butterworth against Smith.

In this case, the respondent, Michael Smith, was a reporter who obtained information relevant to alleged improprieties committed by the State Attorney’s office in the Sheriff’s Department in the Charlotte County, Florida.

It was then called before a special grand jury which had been convened to investigate the allegation.

At the time he testified, he was warned by Florida officials not to reveal his testimony in any manner since he could be found criminally liable for violating a Florida law which prohibits a grand jury witness from ever disclosing the content, gist, or import of testimony given before that body.

After the investigation ended, Smith set out to publish a news story about the subject matter of the investigation and he sued the State of Florida seeking a declaration that the Florida law, which I have mentioned, violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that this Florida law was unconstitutional to the extent that it prohibits a witness from speaking about his testimony after a grand jury investigation has terminated.

We granted certiorari to review this judgment and for reasons stated in an opinion filed with the Clerk, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Florida’s interest in prohibiting a grand jury witness from disclosing his own testimony after an investigation has ended are insufficient to overcome Smith’s First Amendment right to make a truthful statement of information he acquired outside the grand jury room.

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The decision of the Court is unanimous.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion.