328 U.S. 331 (1946), 473, Pennekamp v. Florida
|Docket Nº:||No. 473|
|Citation:||328 U.S. 331, 66 S.Ct. 1029, 90 L.Ed. 1295|
|Party Name:||Pennekamp v. Florida|
|Case Date:||June 03, 1946|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued February 8, 1946
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA
Petitioners, the publisher and the associate editor of a newspaper, were responsible for the publication of two editorials and a cartoon criticizing certain actions previously taken by a Florida trial court of general jurisdiction in certain non-jury proceedings as being too favorable to criminals and gambling establishments. Two of the cases involved had been dismissed. In the third, a rape case, an indictment had been quashed for technical defects, but a new indictment had been obtained and trial was pending. Petitioners were cited for contempt, the citation charging, inter alia, that the publications reflected upon and impugned the integrity of the court, tended to create a distrust for the court, willfully withheld and suppressed the truth, and tended to obstruct the fair and impartial administration of justice in pending cases. In their answer, petitioners denied any intent to interfere with fair and impartial justice and claimed, inter alia, that it was their intent to condemn and criticize the system of pleading and practice created by the laws of Florida, that the publications were legitimate criticism and comment within the federal guaranties of a free press, and that they created no clear and present danger to the administration of justice. The court found the facts recited and the charges made in the citation to be true and well founded, adjudged petitioners guilty of contempt, and fined them. This judgment was sustained by the Supreme Court of Florida as being in accordance with Florida law.
1. On this record, the danger to fair judicial administration has not the clearness and immediacy necessary to close the door of permissible public comment, and the judgment is reversed as violative of petitioners' right of free expression in the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Bridge v. California, 314 U.S. 252. Pp. 334, 346-350.
2. This Court has final authority to determine the meaning and application of those words of the Constitution which require interpretation to resolve judicial issues. P. 335.
3. In cases of this type, it must examine for itself the statements in issue and the circumstances under which they were made to see
whether or not they carry a threat of clear and present danger to the impartiality and good order of the courts or whether they are of a character protected by the principles of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 335, 336, 346.
4. When the highest court of a State has reached a determination upon such an issue, this Court gives most respectful attention to its reasoning and conclusion; but the state court's authority is not final. P. 335.
5. This Court agrees with the Supreme Court of Florida that the rape case was pending at the time of the publication. P. 344.
6. This Court may accept the conclusion of the Florida courts upon intent and motive as a determination of fact; but it is for this Court to determine federal constitutional rights in the setting of the facts. P. 345.
7. Discussion that follows the termination of a case may be inadequate to emphasize the danger to public welfare of supposedly wrongful judicial conduct, but it does not follow that public comment of every character upon pending trials or legal proceedings may be as free as similar comment after complete disposal of the litigation. P. 346.
8. In borderline cases where it is difficult to say upon which side the alleged offense falls, the specific freedom of public comment should weigh heavily against a possible tendency to influence pending cases. Freedom of discussion should be given the widest possible range compatible with the essential requirement of the fair and orderly administration of justice. P. 347.
9. Since the publications concerned the attitude of the judges toward those charged with crime, not comments on evidence or rulings during a jury trial, their effect on juries that might eventually try the alleged offenders is too remote to be considered a clear and present danger to justice. P. 348.
10. This criticism of the judge's inclinations or actions in pending non-jury proceedings could not directly affect the administration of justice, although the cases were still pending on other points or might be revived by rehearings. P. 348.
11. That a judge might be influenced by a desire to placate the accusing newspaper to retain public esteem and secure reelection at the cost of unfair rulings against an accused is too remote a possibility to be considered a clear and present danger to justice. P. 349.
REED, J., lead opinion
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.
This proceeding brings here for review a judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida, 156 Fla. 227, 22 So.2d 875, which affirmed a judgment of guilt in contempt of the Circuit Court of Dade County, Florida, on a citation of petitioners by that Circuit Court.
The individual petitioner was the associate editor of the Miami Herald, a newspaper of general circulation, published in Dade County, Florida, and within the jurisdiction of the trial court. The corporate petitioner was the publisher of the Miami Herald. Together, petitioners were responsible for the publication of two editorials charged by the citation to be contemptuous of the Circuit Court and its judges in that they were unlawfully critical of the administration of criminal justice in certain cases then pending before the Court.
Certiorari was granted to review petitioners' contention that the editorials did not present "a clear and present danger of high imminence to the administration of justice
by the court" or judges who were criticized, and therefore the judgment of contempt was invalid as violative of the petitioners' right of free expression in the press. The importance of the issue in the administration of justice at this time, in view of this Court's decision in Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, three years prior to this judgment in contempt, [66 S.Ct. 1031] is apparent.
Bridges v. California fixed reasonably well marked limits around the power of courts to punish newspapers and others for comments upon or criticism of pending litigation. The case placed orderly operation of courts as the primary and dominant requirement in the administration of justice. Pages 263, 265, 266. This essential right of the courts to be free of intimidation and coercion was held to be consonant with a recognition that freedom of the press must be allowed in the broadest scope compatible with the supremacy of order. A theoretical determinant of the limit for open discussion was adopted from experience with other adjustments of the conflict between freedom of expression and maintenance of order. This was the clear and present danger rule. The evil consequence of comment must be "extremely serious, and the degree of imminence extremely high, before utterances can be punished." Page 263. It was, of course, recognized that this formula, as would any other, inevitably had the vice of uncertainty, page 261, but it was expected that, from a decent self-restraint on the part of the press and from the formula's repeated application by the courts, standards of permissible comment would emerge which would guarantee the courts against interference and allow fair play to the good influences of open discussion. As a step toward the marking of the line, we held that the publications there involved were within the permissible limits of free discussion.
In the Bridges case, the clear and present danger rule was applied to the stated issue of whether the expressions there
under consideration prevented "fair judicial trials free from coercion or intimidation." Page 259. There was, of course, no question as to the power to punish for disturbances and disorder in the court room. Page 266. The danger to be guarded against is the "substantive evil" sought to be prevented. Pages 261, 262, 263. In the Bridges case, that "substantive evil" was primarily the "disorderly and unfair administration of justice." Pages 270, 271, 278.1
The Constitution has imposed upon this Court final authority to determine the meaning and application of those words of that instrument which require interpretation to resolve judicial issues. With that responsibility, we are compelled to examine for ourselves the statements in issue and the circumstances under which they were made to see whether or not they do carry a threat of clear and present danger to the impartiality and good order of the courts or whether they are of a character which the principles of the First Amendment, as adopted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protect.2 When the highest court of a state has reached a determination upon such an issue, we give most respectful attention to its reasoning and conclusion, but its authority is not final. Were it otherwise, the constitutional limits of free expression in the Nation would vary with state lines.3
[66 S.Ct. 1032] While there was a division of the Court in the Bridges case as to whether some of the public expressions by editorial
comment transgressed the boundaries of a free press and as to the phrasing of the test, there was unanimous recognition that California's power to punish for contempt was limited by this Court's...
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