National Press Club

National Press Club Alarmed at Judge's Unconstitutional "Prior Restraint"

December 14, 2016 | By Jerry Zremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

The National Press Club on Wednesday expressed dismay over a New Jersey judge’s unconstitutional decision to block a newspaper from publishing information it lawfully obtained regarding a child custody case.

Mercer County Judge Craig Corson recently issued a temporary injunction preventing The Trentonian from publishing the information, which pertains to a custody case involving a five-year-old.

The information comes from a complaint in the child custody case, which, as a Family Court matter, is not public. But the information in the complaint is of public interest because the custody case involves a child who was found with drugs in his possession while at school twice in the past two months.

“Newspapers routinely obtain and publish information that is not public, and the Constitution protects their right to do so,” said Thomas Burr, National Press Club president. “Judge Corson, who just joined the bench last year, appears not to understand the Supreme Court case law dating back more than 80 years that guarantees the press the right to publish without being subject to government censorship.”

Dating back as far as 1931, the Supreme Court has ruled the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press bars almost all “prior restraint” on the part of any government.

In that 1931 case, Near v. State of Minnesota, the justices ruled in favor of a Minneapolis newspaper after the county attorney sought to block its publication because of its stories outlining how law enforcement was ignoring organized crime. In that case, the high court ruled that prior restraint was constitutional only in “exceptional cases,” such as to protect troops during wartime.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its views on prior restraint in 1971, when the government tried to block The New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, a classified investigation into the Vietnam War. In New York Times Co. v. United States, the justices said that any harm that could result from the publication of the Pentagon Papers did not justify the government stopping their publication. Prior restraint is allowed only when publication “will surely result in direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to our Nation or its people,” Justice Potter Stewart said in his concurring opinion in the case.

“Americans are blessed in that the Constitution, in effect, protects their right to know what the press uncovers,” Burr said. “We urge the court to recognize that and lift the temporary restraining order when court meets on Wednesday.”

The National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Through its Press Freedom Committee, the club works to promote freedom of expression and transparency at home and abroad. The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a non-profit affiliate, equips news professionals with the skills to innovate, leverages emerging trends, recognizes innovators and mentors the next generation.