• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not protect newspapers from civil suits for breaking a promise of confidentiality.

Dan Cohen, a political consultant, was fired from his job after two newspapers identified him as the source of information about a political candidate. Having been promised confidentiality, he sued for breach of contract. Based on the state’s contract law, the jury awarded him $200,000 in compensatory damages. The Minnesota supreme court, however, overturned the award, concluding that protection for the First Amendment’s freedom of the press outweighed the state’s interest in enforcing contractual obligations.Press, freedom of;Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.[Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.]

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court directed Minnesota’s high court to reconsider the judgment according to the relevant state laws. Speaking for the majority, Justice Byron R. WhiteWhite, Byron R.;Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.[Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.] reasoned that the First Amendment did not give the publisher of a newspaper any special immunity from the enforcement of general laws and that the application of a general law against the press is not subject to any heightened scrutiny simply because its incidental effect is to make it more difficult for the press to gather and report the news. In contrast, the dissenters argued that an indirect restraint on the truthful reporting of political speech should be judged by the compelling state interest test.

Branzburg v. Hayes

First Amendment balancing

Judicial scrutiny

Speech and press, freedom of

Categories: History