Nelson v. McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.
936 P.2d 1123 (Wash.1997).

Facts:

  • Nelson was a reporter for TNT. She was also a self-professed lesbian who spent much of her off-duty hours serving as a political activist.
  • TNT had an ethics code to regulate conflicts of interest.
    • TNT, like most newspapers, wanted to be objective.
  • Nelson was eventually transferred from reporter to swing shift copy editor after refusing to comply with the ethics code.
  • She then sued under the Fair Campaign Practices Act, a Washington statute.
    • The Act basically prohibited employers from discriminating against employees based on their support of initiatives, political parties, or political committees.

History:
The trial court granted summary judgment for TNT.

  • The court held the statute applies only when the employer requires an employee to adopt its political position, and does not apply when the employer merely requires political neutrality.

Issue:
Whether the Washington Statute unconstitutionally infringed on TNT’s right to freedom of the press.

Holding:
Yes. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • Although the court held that the Act applies even when an employer requires neutrality (as opposed to the trial court’s holding), it could not be applied in this case without violating newspaper’s right to freedom of the press.
    • Editorial integrity and credibility are core objectives of editorial control and thus merit protection under constitutional free press clauses.
    • TNT’s policy was pretty much the same as every other paper’s policy out there and was designed in good faith.

Rule: Editorial control is a necessary component of a newspaper’s right to freedom of the press, and state law infringing thereon will be unconstitutional as applied.