331 U.S. 367 (1947), 241, Craig v. Harney

Docket Nº:No. 241
Citation:331 U.S. 367, 67 S.Ct. 1249, 91 L.Ed. 1546
Party Name:Craig v. Harney
Case Date:May 19, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 367

331 U.S. 367 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 1249, 91 L.Ed. 1546




No. 241

United States Supreme Court

May 19, 1947

Argued January 9, 1947



1. The publication in a newspaper of news articles, which unfairly reported events in a case pending in a state court, and an editorial which vehemently attacked the trial judge (a layman elected for a short term) while a motion for a new trial was pending, did not, in the circumstances of this case, constitute a clear and present danger to the administration of justice, and the conviction of the newspapermen for contempt violated the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Following Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, and Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331. Pp. 368-370, 375-378.

2. The present case is one of the type in which this Court is required to make an independent examination of the facts to determine whether a State has deprived a person of a fundamental right secured by the Constitution. Pp. 373-374.

3. There is no special perquisite of the judiciary which enables it, as distinguished from other institutions of democratic government, to suppress, edit, or censor reports of occurrences in judicial proceedings. P. 374.

4. One reporting the news of a judicial trial may not be held for contempt because he missed the essential point in the trial or failed to summarize the issues to accord with the views of the trial judge. P. 375.

5. The vehemence of the language used in a publication concerning a pending case is not alone the measure of the power to punish for contempt; the threat to the administration of justice must be imminent. P. 376.

6. The law of contempt is not designed for the protection of judges who may be sensitive to the winds of public opinion. P. 376.

7. Although the nature of a case may be relevant in determining whether the clear and present danger test is satisfied, the rule of the Bridges and Pennekamp cases is fashioned to serve the needs of all litigation, not merely particular types of pending cases. P. 378.

149 Tex.Cr. ___, 193 S.W.2d 178, reversed.

Page 368

Petitioners' application to a state court for a writ of habeas corpus to obtain their release from imprisonment for contempt was denied. 193 S.W.2d 178. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 696. Reversed, p. 378.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners were adjudged guilty of constructive criminal contempt by the County Court of Neuces County, Texas, and sentenced to jail for three days. They sought to challenge the legality of their confinement by applying to the Court of Criminal Appeals for a writ of habeas corpus.1 That court, by a divided vote, denied the writ and remanded petitioners to the custody of the county sheriff. Ex parte Craig, 193 S.W.2d 178. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the problem and because the ruling of the Texas court raised doubts whether it conformed to the principles announced in Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, and Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331.

Page 369

Petitioners are a publisher, an editorial writer, and a news reporter of newspapers published in Corpus Christi, Texas. The County Court had before it a forcible detainer case, Jackson v. Mayes, whereby Jackson sought to regain possession from Mayes of a business building in Corpus Christi which Mayes (who was at the time in the armed services and whose affairs were being handled by an agent, one Burchard) claimed under a lease. That case turned on whether Mayes' lease was forfeited because of nonpayment of rent. At the close of the testimony, each side moved for an instructed verdict. The judge instructed the jury to return a verdict for Jackson. That was on May 26, 1945. The jury returned with a verdict for Mayes. The judge refused to accept it, and again instructed the jury to return a verdict for Jackson. The jury returned a second time with a verdict for Mayes. Once more, the judge refused to accept it, and repeated his prior instruction. It being the evening of May 26th and the jury not having complied, the judge recessed the court until the morning of May 27th. Again the jury balked at returning the instructed verdict. But finally it complied, stating that it acted under coercion of the court and against its conscience.

On May 29th, Mayes moved for a new trial. That motion was denied on June 6th. On June 4th, an officer of the County Court filed with that court a complaint charging petitioners with contempt by publication. The publications referred to were an editorial and news stories published on May 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31 in the newspapers with which petitioners are connected. We have set forth the relevant parts of the publications in the appendix to this opinion. Browning, the judge, who is a layman and who holds an elective office, was criticized for taking the case from the jury. That ruling was called "arbitrary action" and a "travesty on justice." It was deplored that a layman, rather than a lawyer, sat as judge. Groups of

Page 370

local citizens were reported as petitioning the judge to [67 S.Ct. 1252] grant Mayes a new trial, and it was said that one group had labeled the judge's ruling as a "gross miscarriage of justice." It was also said that the judge's behavior had properly brought down "the wrath of public opinion upon his head," that the people were aroused because a serviceman "seems to be getting a raw deal," and that there was "no way of knowing whether justice was done, because the first rule of justice, giving both sides an opportunity to be heard, was repudiated." And the fact that there could be no appeal from the judge's ruling to a court "familiar with proper procedure and able to interpret and weigh motion and arguments by opposing counsel" was deplored.

The trial judge concluded that the reports and editorials were designed falsely to represent to the public the nature of the proceedings and to prejudice and influence the court in its ruling on the motion for a new trial then pending. Petitioners contended at the hearing that all that was reported did no more than to create the same impression that would have been created upon the mind of an average intelligent layman who sat through the trial. They disclaimed any purpose to impute unworthy motives to the judge or to advise him how the case should be decided or to bring the court into disrepute. The purpose was to "quicken the conscience of the judge" and to "make him more careful in discharging his duty."

The Court of Criminal Appeals, in denying the writ of habeas corpus, stated that the "issue before us" is "whether the publications . . . were reasonably calculated to interfere with the due administration of justice" in the pending case. 193 S.W.2d at 186. It was held that

there is no escape from the conclusion that it was the purpose and intent of the publishers . . . to force, compel, and coerce Judge Browning to grant Mayes a new trial. The only reason or motive for so doing was because the publishers did not agree with Judge Browning's decision

Page 371

or conduct of the case. According to their viewpoint, Judge Browning was wrong, and they took it upon themselves to make him change his decision.

Id., pp. 188-189. The court went on to say that

It is hard to conceive how the public press could have been more forcibly or substantially used or applied to make, force, and compel a judge to change a ruling or decision in a case pending before him than was here done.

Id., p. 189. The court distinguished the Bridges case, noting that there the published statements carried threats of future adverse criticism and action on the part of the publisher if the pending matter was not disposed of in accordance with the views of the publisher, that the views of the publisher in the matter were already well known, and that the Bridges case was not private litigation, but a suit in the outcome of which the public had an interest. Id., p. 188. It concluded that the facts of this case satisfied the "clear and present danger" rule of the Bridges case. That test was, in the view of the court, satisfied

because the publications and their purpose were to impress upon Judge Browning (a) that, unless he granted the motion for a new trial, he would be subjected to suspicion as to his integrity and fairness and to odium and hatred in the public mind; (b) that the safe and secure course to avoid the criticism of the press and public opinion would be to grant the motion and disqualify himself from again presiding at the trial of the case, and (c) that, if he overruled the motion for a new trial, there would be produced in the public mind such a disregard for the court over which he presided as to give rise to a purpose in practice to refuse to respect and obey any order, judgment, or decree which he might render in conflict with the views of the public press.

Id., p. 189.

The court's statement of the issue before it and the reasons it gave for holding that the "clear and present danger" test was satisfied have a striking resemblance to the findings which the Court in Toledo Newspaper Co. v.

Page 372

United States, 247 U.S. 402, held adequate to sustain an adjudication [67 S.Ct. 1253] of contempt by publication.2 That case held that comment on a pending case in a federal court was punishable by contempt if it had a "reasonable tendency" to obstruct the administration of justice. We revisited that case in Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 52, and disapproved it. And in Bridges v. California, supra, we held that the compulsion of the First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth (Schneider v. Irvington, 308 U.S. 147; Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 108) forbade the punishment by contempt for comment on...

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