Near v. State of Minnesota ex rel. Olson
283 U.S. 697 (1931)

  • Near published a newspaper that routinely charged the local officials of Hennepin County with being in league with gangsters.
    • Minnesota law (Session Laws, Chapter 285) said (among other things) that anyone who regularly published a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory” newspaper was guilty of a nuisance and could be fined or enjoined.
  • Based on the Minnesota law, the local officials got an injunction against Near, forbidding him to publish his paper.
  • Near appealed, arguing that the Minnesota law was an unconstitutional prohibition on his freedom of speech as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.
  • The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed. Near appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found the Minnesota law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Minnesota law was a prior restraint on speech.
      • A prior restraint is something that prevents speech from occurring, like forcing someone to get a license before printing a paper.
      • Alternately, there are laws that punish speech after it has occurred, like penalties for libel or slander.
      • The difference is that if there is an injunction, you can still be punished for violating the injunction, even if it is later determined that the speech was protected by the 1st Amendment.
        • Aka the Collateral Bar Rule.
    • The Court found that, except for narrow exceptions, any law that censors or prohibits speech in advance is an unconstitutional violation of the 1st Amendment.
      • Alternately, a law that punishes someone for the same speech after it has occurred may be constitutional.
  • Basically, this case said that any laws that could be considered prior restraint are almost certainly unconstitutional violations of freedom of speech.
    • The three narrow exceptions are; to protect national security, to safeguard a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and to seize assets of businesses convicted of obscenity law violations.