United States v. Providence Journal Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Providence Journal Company
LOCATION: Middle District Court of Tennessee

DOCKET NO.: 87-65
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 485 US 693 (1988)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1988
DECIDED: May 02, 1988

ADVOCATES:
The Clerk -
Floyd Abrams - on behalf of the Respondent
Robert D. Parrillo - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Providence Journal Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 20, 1988 in United States v. Providence Journal Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 02, 1988 in United States v. Providence Journal Company

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 87-65, United States against Providence Journal Company will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The respondents are a newspaper and its executive editor and they in fact violated a temporary restraining order issued by the District Court in a civil suit to enjoin dissemination of memoranda concerning the plaintiff's deceased father.

The Court appointed a private attorney to prosecute the respondents for criminal contempt.

It declined or asked the United States Attorney to pursue the matter because of his representation of the federal defendants in the underlying civil action.

The District Court found respondents in criminal contempt, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Solicitor General denied the special prosecutor authority to represent the United States in this Court in seeking reinstatement of the contempt judgment.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor filed a petition for certiorari, and that writ was granted and he briefed and argued the case here.

We now dismiss the writ of certiorari for want of jurisdiction.

This is because the special prosecutor lacks authority to represent the United States before this Court.

Section 518(a) of what is known as Title 18 or 28 of the United States Code, empowers the Solicitor General or his designee to conduct and argue suites in this Court and I quote, “in which the United States is interested.”

This is such a case if a judicially initiated contempt citation were not a case "in which the United States is interested,” the policies underlying the statute that the United States speak with one voice before this Court are such as it could be undermine by unauthorized certiorari petitions filed by United States Attorneys or by special prosecutors at the behest of district judges.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion but joins the opinion of the Court.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion and is joined therein by the Chief Justice.

Justice Kennedy took no part.