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New York Times Co. v United States
Transcript of New York Times Co. v United States
New York Times Argument
The 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press protects the newspaper in the publication of these documents. One of the few restraints on executive power in matters of national defense is a knowledgeable population. The press must be free to inform the American people. In addition, the Government has failed to show that publication of the Pentagon Papers would endanger national security.
The United States Argument
Hugo L. Black
William J. Brennan, Jr.
Byron R. White
Supreme Court Decision
6 votes for New York Times
3 votes against
(Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly)
The Pentagon Papers were a report originating from the Department of Defense that detailed controversial and deceptive Government tactics in regard to the Vietnam War. The New York Times wanted to publish the documents and make them accessible to the public nationwide.
The 1st Amendment does not guarantee an absolute freedom of the press, especially when the nation's security is involved. The Court must strike a balance between the fundamentally important right to a free press and the equally important duty of the Government to protect the nation. Allowing the publication of these documents would establish a dangerous precedent for future cases involving national security.
Circumstances of the Case
The Pentagon Papers, officially known as “History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy,” were illegally copied and then leaked to the press. The New York Times and the Washington Post had obtained the documents. Acting at the Government's request, the United States district court in New York issued a temporary injunction—a court order—that directed the New York Times not to publish the documents.
Did the Nixon administration's efforts to prevent the publication of what it termed "classified information" violate the First Amendment?
William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan
Harry A. Blackmun
Warren E. Burger
Are the freedoms provided by the 1st Amendment absolute? Did the threat to national security outweigh the freedom of press guaranteed by the 1st Amendment? Did the publication of the Pentagon Papers in fact pose a threat to national security?
Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas held that the 1st Amendment is absolute. Justice Black called it “unfortunate” in his view “that some of my Brethren [fellow justices] are apparently willing to hold that the publication of news may sometimes be enjoined. Such a holding,” he wrote, “would make a shambles of the First Amendment.”
This case was a landmark case. It was significant in the sense that it pit a Constitutionally protected right against the overall security of the nation. And the Supreme Court decided the 1st Amendment protects the newspaper in the publication of documents like this.
Warren E. Burger was the Chief Justice to hear the case in the Supreme Court. The Court faced a difficult decision regarding the applicability of the First Amendment and to what extent the Constitutional rights granted should be implemented.
Burger dissented and argued that "the imperative of a free and unfettered press comes into collision with another imperative, the effective functioning of a complex modern government", that there should be a detailed study on the effects of these actions. He argued that in the haste of the proceedings, and given the size of the documents, the Court was unable to gather enough information to make a decision.
Saturday, June 26, 1971
Wednesday, June 30, 1971
The Pentagon Papers surfaced at a time when the American people were deeply divided on the question of United States involvement in the war.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Justice Byron White, joined by Justice Potter Stewart, believed that while there are situations in which the 1st Amendment may be abridged, they had to “concur in today's judgments, but only because of the concededly extraordinary protection against prior restraints enjoyed by the press under our constitutional system.” Although the justices thought that the New York Times had probably gone too far in publishing the Pentagon Papers, they found nothing in the law to prevent the newspaper from doing so.
I think that the Supreme Court made a good decision on this case. I feel that the press must be free to inform the American people.