The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court of the judic
ial branch of the United States government. Many of the cases that make it to
the supreme court are based on rights set forth by the Bill of Rights. The Bil
l of Rights is comprised of the first ten amendments to the United States Consti
tution, and is what this nation was founded upon. The first of these amendment
s deals with freedoms given to the people, one of these freedoms being Freedom o
f the Press. This freedom gives organizations the right to print and publish
what they want without being told what they can and can't publish by the governm
ent. There are of course restrictions to this such as "prior restraint" which i
s the government's right to censor material beforehand that it does not want pub
lished, because it would compromise national security (Bender, 136). Prior rest
raint was found unconstitutional in the Near v. Minnesota case of 1931. In this
case the court ruled that an injunction to stop publication of a newspaper with
objectionable material was an example of prior restraint and therefore unconsti
tutional (Bender, 136). This became known as the due process clause of the 14th
amendment to the constitution. Another part of Freedom of the Press is the rig
ht for people to be able to read books, and not have books removed from a public
place because certain people feel they are inappropriate (Cantwell, 34).
There are two cases that clearly show these two points, and how the Supr
eme Court used its power to solve them. One of these cases is New York Times Co
mpany v. United States in 1971 which is also k This case shows how the Supreme Court used its position as
the top court to rul
e against the United States executive branch (Bender, 137). Another case is Boa
rd of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982. This case had to
do with book censorship in a public high school library by the school board of
that school (Gold, 17).

The Supreme Court has had many cases dealing with free speech, and how t
he government has tried to prevent the people from seeing certain pieces of info
rmation. One such example of the Supreme Court dealing was the New York Times v
. United States case which took place in 1971. This case was brought up by the
United States after top secret documents from the Pentagon, known as the Pentago
n Papers, were leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post (Bender, 132).
These documents contained information about the military presence in Vietnam tha
t the U.S. government felt was a risk to national security if known by its enemi
es, and therefore only 15 copies of these documents were produced. Daniel Ellsb
erg, was a high level Pentagon researcher who had legal access to the documents
because he was involved in compiling and editing the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg
made a photocopy of these documents and gave them to Neil Sheehan of the New Yor
k Times. Once the Times had these papers, they set a team of reporters to write
articles about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam based on the information contain
ed in the documents. A short time later, the same Daniel Ellsberg gave parts of
the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post, and that paper wrote articles about
nown as the Pentagon Papers case.
The federal government objected to the publication in daily newspapers o
f these documents which it had deemed top secret. The government claimed that d
istribution of the material in the Pentagon Papers would be damaging to the nati
onal security of the United States and to its soldiers in Vietnam. Therefore th
e government brought legal action against the New York Times and the Washington
Post to stop them from publishing articles about this sensitive material (ACLU).


Representatives of the Times said the federal government's attempt to st
op the publication of these articles about the Pentagon Papers was an example of
prior restraint. The Times contended that this would be a violation of freedom
of the press, which is guaranteed in the first Amendment. The federal governme
nt's side of the argument was that the publication of this top secret informatio
n would put the lives of soldiers in danger, and give assistance during wartime
to enemies of the United States (Bender, 139).

This case was argued in front of the Supreme Court