United States v. Reynolds Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Defending against a wrongful death claim arising out of a test flight, the Air Force refused to turn over documents from the flight citing national security privilege. The Supreme Court of the United States (“Supreme Court”) upheld the Air Force’s right to claim privilege.

Facts of the case

“An airplane carrying several military personnel and several civilians crashed while conducting tests of “”secret electronic equipment.”” The widows of the three civilians killed sued and asked for full disclosure of the Air Force’s accident investigation report. The report included information pertaining to the secret electronic equipment. The Air Force refused to provide the information, saying that to do so would threaten national security. Absent the report, the District Court and Court of Appeals viewed the question of negligence in the widow’s favor and ruled for the plaintiffs.”


Does the government have absolute privilege to deny discovery because of national security privilege?


No. Mere government assertion of privilege is not enough to bar discovery, but the government can assert such privileges if it can show its assertion is appropriate under the circumstances.


Was the jury’s role confined to determining a compensation award within ground rules established by the trial judge?

  • Case Brief: 1953
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Reynolds
  • Decided by: Vinson Court

Citation: 345 US 1 (1953)
Argued: Oct 21, 1952
Decided: Mar 9, 1953