Near v. Minnesota Case Brief

Facts of the case

In a Minneapolis newspaper called The Saturday Press, Jay Near and Howard Guilford accused local officials of being implicated with gangsters. Minnesota officials sought a permanent injunction against The Saturday Press on the grounds that it violated the Public Nuisance Law because it was malicious, scandalous, and defamatory. The law provided that any person engaged in the businessof regularly publishing or circulating an obscene, lewd, and lasciviousor a malicious, scandalous and defamatorynewspaper or periodical was guilty of a nuisance, and could be enjoined from further committing or maintaining the nuisance. The state supreme court upheld both the temporary injunction and the permanent injunction that eventually issued from the trial court.

Why is the case important?

A Minnesota law that “gagged” a periodical from publishing derogatory statements about local public officials was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court).

Question

Whether a statute authorizing such proceedings is consistent with the conception of the liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed?

ANSWER

No. Judgment of the state court reversed. The fact that the liberty of press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not effect the requirement that the press has immunity from previous restraints when it deals with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy, consistent with the constitutional privilege. Therefore, a statute authorizing such proceedings is not consistent with the conception of the liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed and is thus, unconstitutional. The statute in question cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good motives and for justifiable ends. This statute, if upheld, could lead to a complete system of censorship. Thus, the statute is a substantial infringement on the liberty of the press and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Co
nstitution.

CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the previous rulings. The Court held that the Minnesota nuisance statute of 1925, as applied against the newspaper publisher, infringed the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The language of the statute at issue placed a prior restraint on the newspaper publisher to avoid language that might not be protected, thereby denying him the right of publication. This freedom, by virtue of its very reason for its existence, did not depend on proof of truth. The Court explained that the Minnesota statute cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good motives and for justifiable ends. If such a statute, authorizing suppression and injunction on such a basis, is constitutionally valid, it would be equally permissible for the legislature to provide that at any time the publisher of any newspaper could be brought before a court. The Court concluded that, so far as it authorized the proceedings in this action under the 1925 statute, to be an infringement of the liberty of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court qualified its holding by adding that the instant decision rests upon the operation and effect of the statute, without regard to the question of the truth of the charges contained in the defendant’s periodical.

  • Advocates: Weymouth Kirkland for Near James E. Markham Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota, for Minnesota Arthur L. Markve for Olson
  • Appellant: Jay Near
  • Appellee: Minnesota ex rel. Olson
  • DECIDED BY:Hughes Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 283 US 697 (1931)
Argued: Jan 30, 1930
Decided: Jun 1, 1931
Near v. Minnesota Case Brief