Title/Citation: New York Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 670, 91 S.CT. 2140 (1971) Facts: The New York Times and Washington Post illegally obtained a study concerning Vietnam, and after several months of deliberation decided to publish it. The government petitioned for an injunction and was awarded a restraining order preventing further publication. After conflict in the lower courts, the case was brought before the Supreme Court. Legal Question: Can the government limit First Amendment rights in the nation?s interest as stated by the federal government? No. Holding: Affirmed. Opinion from the Court: The government must display justification for limiting First Amendment rights. The government has not shown, in this case, adequate justification for prohibiting the press from publishing the documents in question. Separate Opinions: Justice Black & Justice Douglas: Concurring. The injunctions against the newspapers are a clear violation of First Amendment rights. The courts cannot be asked to limit the freedom of expression simply in the name of ?national security,? because this category is far too broad, and can encompass too many different claims that can potentially destroy the concept of free speech. Justice Douglas & Justice Black: Concurring. Opening government function up to the people, via the press, is a necessary aspect of a democracy. Confidentiality in government is an undemocratic practice. Justice Brennan: Concurring. The First Amendment absolutely prohibits the judiciary from enforcing restraints to limit the rights guaranteed by it. Justice Stewart & Justice White: Concurring. The only way aspect of government truly powerful enough to curb the growing power of the modern executive is the public. However, only an informed public can check executive power, and a necessary aspect of keeping the public informed is a free press. It is the responsibility of the Executive to determine what should be kept confidential in the realm of foreign affairs. However, the information of controversy in this case does not damage the national security or foreign strategy in any way. If this is so, then the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment cannot be breached. Justice White & Justice Stewart: Concurring. Publishing the documents in question will not harm governmental function domestically or externally. The government has not justified its reasons enough to satisfy the need for an injunction placed on the newspapers prohibiting further publishing. Also, a responsible press would not publish information that could potentially harm the nation. Justice Marshall: Concurring. The injunction process violates the concept of separation of powers. The injunction allows the Courts and Executive branch to make laws, without the involvement of Congress, even though Congress is delegated this sole duty. Convenience and a present need are not justification enough to do away with the United States? fundamental government structure. Chief Justice Burger: Dissenting. The First Amendment right is not absolute, for example it was established that ?fire? cannot be said in a crowded room. The United States government should not be placed under the pressure it now faces when the documents in question were illegally obtained. The newspaper should responsibly report illegally obtained material to public officers. Justice Harlan & Justice Blackmun: Dissenting. The judiciary should not determine what is considered as national security and what is not, it is not the duty of the judiciary. Justice Blackmun: Dissenting. Every provision of the Constitution is important. The First Amendment cannot be granted more power than another aspects and provisions of the Constitution. Evaluation & Comments: It is dangerous if the government has the ability to prevent people or the press from free expression simply on the claim of ?national security?. National security is such a broad claim that it can almost encompass anything. The First Amendment is one of the most fundamental aspects of the Constitution, and national security can limit the First Amendment significantly, which is potentially dangerous to the ideals the Constitution was founded on. Precedents Used: Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan and Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, established that any claim of limitation of First Amendment rights must be considered as to its constitutionality. Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe stated that the government must display solid justification in order to limit First Amendment rights.
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