The Supreme Court rejected the use of gag orders to protect the rights of those accused of crimes.
This case involved an unusually perverted mass murder and sex crime in a small town in Nebraska. At the preliminary hearing, a confession and note written by the defendant were made available to the press. In an attempt to provide the accused with an impartial, fair trial, the local court issued an injunction against not only the police and attorneys but also the members of the press who were present at the hearing in order to prevent the press from publishing the lurid details contained in the confession and note.
The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court’s gag order. It found that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to an open trial (which means the press has access to the information from the trial) is a long-standing constitutional right that should be balanced against freedom of the press, but balancing should not include prior restraint. When balancing, the lower courts should use the method with the “least means” of disturbing either of the rights (but especially the freedom of the press). One practical result of this case was the increased practice of sequestering juries in dramatic cases and closing preliminary hearings to the press, thereby avoiding the issuance of injunctions that violate the ban against prior restraint. Newspapers continue to object to various aspects of this treatment, but generally the Court has upheld the right of courts to keep certain information out of the hands of the press.
Near v. Minnesota
New York Times Co. v. United States