Near v. Minnesota is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States issued in 1931. The ruling had established that prior restraint on publication violated freedom of the press as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Near v. Minnesota Supreme Court Case was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1931. The case originated in 1927, when J. Near, the resident of Minneapolis and the editor of The Saturday Press, published a number of articles criticizing several of the city’s officials for the alleged dereliction of duty.
Among those targeted by The Saturday Press was F. B. Olson, back then the Hennepin county attorney who was later to become the governor of Minnesota. Considering the information published by Near defamatory and scandalous, Olsen filed a suit against him under Minnesota’s Public Nuisance Law of 1925.
According to this statute, those who engaged in publicizing defamatory, scandalous, or otherwise malicious periodicals could face permanent injunctions, effectively preventing them from continuing their activities as editors, publishers, and distributors.
Both the district court and Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Near should be prevented from editing, publishing, and circulating The Saturday Press, as the information provided by the paper constituted a public nuisance. Dissatisfied with these rulings, Near appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Supreme Court ruling on Near v. Minnesota reversed the decisions of lower courts preventing Near from editing, publishing, and distributing as violating the freedom of the press. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court Justices ruled prior restraint on publication contradicted the liberty of the press as protected by the First Amendment and further clarified in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The reasoning in Near v. Minnesota was based on reviewing the Public Nuisance Law of 1925 in the light of its substance rather than form and concentrated in the constitutionality of prior restraint against the press.
As a result, the Court’s opinion stated that regardless of the truth of Near’s accusations against public officials and the nature of their conduct, prior restraint on publication was unconstitutional. At the same time, the Court pointed out that liberty of the press was not an absolute right, and the states possessed the right to prevent its abuse by other means at their disposal.
The significance of Near v. Minnesota lies in the fact that it remains one of the landmark Supreme Court cases regarding freedom of the press. By ruling against the decisions of the district court and Minnesota Supreme Court, Near v. Minnesota established the principle that pre-publication censorship ran contrary to the freedom of the press as envisaged in the Constitution.
While the Court made it clear in no uncertain terms that any libeler remained criminally and civilly responsible for his libels, imposing prior restraint upon said libeler or libeler’s periodical was deemed illegal.
As a result, the effect of Near v. Minnesota on prior restraint was declared unconstitutional in the entirety of the United States as contradictory to the First and, by extension, the Fourteenth Amendments. The impact of Near v. Minnesota was felt in many following cases regarding limits imposed upon the freedom of the press, as in the New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), when the Supreme Court prevented the Nixon Administration from thwarting the publication of the Pentagon Papers.