The Supreme Court in the US ruled that New York Times and Washington Post could go ahead to publish the then classified Pentagon Paper without fear of government censure. The case was ruled in 1971, commonly referred to as per curiam (Harold and Schmidt 17). The head of state demanded a governmental authority to compel the publishing company to suspend releasing sensitive information to the public.
The case revealed the fact that freedom of press and other fundamental bill of rights are important than any other decree in the US. The case exposed the fact that the First Amendment, which provided the rights of people including the freedom of press, was held in high esteem. Furthermore, the case revealed that the executive branch of government was subordinate to the public. The public could have powers to access any relevant information that touches on its security and wellbeing.
The case was caused by a claim made by the state agency, which argued that the media company had violated section 793 of the Espionage Act. The Attorney General, John Mitchell, reported that the US government was dissatisfied with the way the company handled sensitive issues.
The company had published insightful stories based on Pentagon Papers. This was viewed as a threat to national security hence prompting the state to sue the Newspaper Company. Specifically, the government was dissatisfied with the type of language used in reporting the incident.
According Alexander Bickel and Floyd Abrams, the language contravened the legal statutes of the media. The two observed that the company went against three laws, the first one being the wording of the statute, which was claimed to be a bit broad. The publication was undemocratic because it aimed at exposing the US to the enemy. Finally, the company went against governmental law, which states that matters pertaining to defense should not be exposed to the public.
The legal issue was whether the information intended to educate the public or cause injury to the US government. The company argued that the public had the right to be updated with relevant information touching on their security. This is exemplified by the quote ‘would the public be an entity not permitted to receive the information’. The case was ruled in favor of The New York Times. This was because the state did not have enough evidence to impeach the company.
The judges based their decisions on the First Amendment, which asserted that the public had all the rights to be informed any kind of information. On the other hand, the government lacked sufficient support implying that a different ruling could have been reached. This means that there was no patent and exclusive verdict made by the judges. Matters touching on security receive divergent views because of individual beliefs.
It can be summarized that the judges had divergent views as regards to the case. Justice Hugo for instance opinionated that the First Amendment was to be respected during the ruling. This shows that he was against the decision of the state to interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms. Justice Douglas William was also in support of human rights and freedoms Act claiming that the role of the media was to check on the government.
Justice Brennan William had an issue with the ruling because he observed that the publication did not meet the qualifications provided in the 1931 ruling. The media company had gone a bit too far by revealing sensitive information. Justice porter and White observed that it was the role of the state to ensure national security is preserved and protected. This could be achieved through protecting important information.
Porter noted further that the press could only reveal issues related to national defense and foreign affairs because the head of state had powers to withhold any information. The constitution gave the president a blank check as regards to foreign and defense matters meaning that he/she could use it for selfish gains.
The media is therefore justified to report on such matters since it would be acting as a watchdog to the executive branch. Justice Thurgood claimed that the phrase ‘national security’, was excessively extensive meaning that legalizing restraint could affect many aspects of human. The judge argued that it is the role of the legislature to design policies to guide such cases. In this regard, the judiciary did not have powers to make rulings on such cases.
Some jurists reasoned in favor of the state. Chief Justice Warren Burger argued that the government must always be given powers to executive its duties. This would include the power to control any individual from exposing the secrets of the state. The judge argued that some information might affect proper functioning of the state because enemies may identify the strengths and weaknesses of government. In this respect, the media houses must consult relevant authorities before publishing sensitive materials (Shapiro 95).
The Judge claimed that the ruling was made so hastily because the state was not given time to gather sufficient evidence. Justice Harlan and Blackmun supported the chief Justice by arguing that the ruling never considered national security and the constitutional powers of the executive arm.
Civil rights are those liberties permitted by the bill of rights contained in the 13th and 14th amendments of the American constitution. Such rights consist of protection from the law, liberty, right to own property and invest in any part of the country and right to life. Citizens are entitled to the right of voting and participation in the political process.
This means that individuals are free to present their candidature to the electorate as long as they qualify. Again, an individual has the right to vote for any candidate in an election. Furthermore, the state should provide basic services to the public since it is their right (Schwartz 78).
Civil liberties have grown with the emergence of human rights groups and the amendment of the constitution. The First Amendment played an important role in strengthening the rights of individuals.
The American Civil War played an important role also because the law allowing slavery was abolished. Each person was free to exercise his or her democratic right without restrictions. The Supreme Court has played an important role because it is guided by the provision of the constitution. The Court only interprets the constitution since it is its big mandate.
The case was a landmark to the rights and freedom of the media. The media could air freely what it thought was right. The media has kept on playing an important role since the ruling because there are no restrictions from the state. In other words, the government is subordinate to the electorate because people are informed everything that goes on in government.
The decision of the court was not wise because it interfered with state sovereignty. In real practice, state sovereignty is incompatible with individual liberty. The state should be given powers to exercise its full powers. It is only through state sovereignty that public good can be attained.
Harold, Edgar and Schmidt, Benno. “The Espionage Statutes and Publication of Defense Information”, Columbia Law Review, 73(5), 1973.
Schwartz, Bernard. Freedom of the Press. New York: Facts on File, 1992.
Shapiro, Martin. The Pentagon Papers and the Courts. Toronto: Chandler Publishing Company, 1972.