418 U.S. 241 (1974), 73-797, Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo

Docket Nº:No. 73-797
Citation:418 U.S. 241, 94 S.Ct. 2831, 41 L.Ed.2d 730
Party Name:Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo
Case Date:June 25, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

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418 U.S. 241 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 2831, 41 L.Ed.2d 730

Miami Herald Publishing Co.



No. 73-797

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1974

Argued April 17, 1974



After appellant newspaper had refused to print appellee's replies to editorials critical of appellee's candidacy for state office, appellee brought suit in [94 S.Ct. 2832] Florida Circuit Court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief and damages, based on Florida's "right of reply" statute that grants a political candidate a right to equal space to answer criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper, and making it a misdemeanor for the newspaper to fail to comply. The Circuit Court held the statute unconstitutional as infringing on the freedom of the press, and dismissed the action. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute did not violate constitutional guarantees, and that civil remedies, including damages, were available, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.


1. The Florida Supreme Court's judgment is "final" under 28 U.S.C. § 1257, and thus is ripe for review by this Court. North Dakota Pharmacy Bd. v. Snyder's Stores, 414 U.S. 156. Pp. 246-247.

2. The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press. Pp. 247-258.

(a) Governmental compulsion on a newspaper to publish that which "reason" tells it should not be published is unconstitutional. P. 256.

(b) The statute operates as a command by a State in the same sense as a statute or regulation forbidding appellant to publish specified matter. P. 256.

(c) The statute exacts a penalty on the basis of the content of a newspaper by imposing additional printing, composing, and materials costs and by taking up space that could be devoted to other material the newspaper may have preferred to print. Pp. 256-257

(d) Even if a newspaper would face no additional costs to comply with the statute and would not be forced to forgo publication of news or opinion by the inclusion of a reply, the statute still fails to clear the First Amendment's barriers because of its

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intrusion into the function of editors in choosing what material goes into a newspaper and in deciding on the size and content of the paper and the treatment of public issues and officials. P. 258.

287 So.2d 78, reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring statement, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 258. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 259.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether a state statute granting a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper violates the guarantees of a free press.


In the fall of 1972, appellee, Executive Director of the Classroom Teachers Association, apparently a teachers' collective bargaining agent, was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. On September 20, 1972, and again on September 29, 1972, appellant printed editorials critical of appellee's candidacy.1 In

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response to these editorials, [94 S.Ct. 2833] appellee demanded that appellant print verbatim his replies, defending the role of the Classroom Teachers Association and the organization's accomplishments for the citizens of Dade County. Appellant declined to print the appellee's replies, and appellee brought suit in Circuit Court, Dade County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and actual and punitive damages in excess of $5,000. The action was premised on Florida Statute § 104.38 (1973), a "right of reply" statute which provides that, if a candidate for nomination or election is assailed regarding his personal character or official record by any newspaper, the candidate has the right to demand that the newspaper print, free of cost to the candidate, any reply the candidate may make to the newspaper's charges. The reply must appear in as conspicuous a place and in the same kind of type as the charges which prompted the reply, provided it does not take up more space than the charges. Failure to comply with the statute constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor.2

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Appellant sought a declaration that § 104.38 was unconstitutional. After an emergency hearing requested by appellee, the Circuit Court denied injunctive relief because, absent special circumstances, no injunction could properly issue against the commission of a crime, and held that § 104.38 was unconstitutional as an infringement on the freedom of the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. 38 Fla.Supp. 80 (1972). The Circuit Court concluded that dictating what a newspaper must print was no different from dictating what it must not print. The Circuit Judge viewed the statute's vagueness as serving "to restrict and stifle protected expression." Id. at 83. Appellee's cause was dismissed with prejudice.

On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that § 104.38 did not violate constitutional guarantees. 287 So.2d 78 (1973).3 It held that free speech was enhanced, and not abridged, [94 S.Ct. 2834] by the Florida right-of-reply statute, which, in that court's view, furthered the "broad societal interest in the free flow of information to the public." Id. at 82. It also held that the statute is

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not impermissibly vague; the statute informs "those who are subject to it as to what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties." Id. at 85.4 Civil remedies, including damages, were held to be available under this statute; the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Florida Supreme Court's opinion.

We postponed consideration of the question of jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits. 414 U.S. 1142 (1974).


Although both parties contend that this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court, a suggestion was initially made that the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court might not be "final" under 28 U.S.C. § 1257.5 In North Dakota State Pharmacy Bd. v. Snyder's Stores, 414 U.S. 156 (1973), we reviewed a judgment of the North Dakota Supreme Court, under which the case had been remanded so that further state proceedings could be conducted respecting Snyder's application for a permit to operate a drug store. We held that to be a final judgment for purposes of our jurisdiction. Under the principles of finality enunciated in Snyder's Stores, the judgment of

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the Florida Supreme Court in this case is ripe for review by this Court.6



The challenged statute creates a right to reply to press criticism of a candidate for nomination or election. The statute was enacted in 1913, and this is only the second recorded case decided under its provisions.7

Appellant contends the statute is void on its face because it purports to regulate the content of a newspaper in violation of the First Amendment. Alternatively it is urged that the statute is void for vagueness, since no editor could know exactly what words would call the statute into operation. It is also contended that the statute fails to distinguish between [94 S.Ct. 2835] critical comment which is, and which is not, defamatory.


The appellee and supporting advocates of an enforceable right of access to the press vigorously argue that

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government has an obligation to ensure that a wide variety of views reach the public.8 The contentions of access proponents will be set out in some detail.9 It is urged that, at the time the First Amendment to the Constitution10 was ratified in 1791 as part of our Bill of Rights, the press was broadly representative of the people it was serving. While many of the newspapers were intensely partisan and narrow in their views, the press collectively presented a broad range of opinions to readers. Entry into publishing was inexpensive; pamphlets and books provided meaningful alternatives to the organized press for the expression of unpopular ideas, and often treated events and expressed views not covered by conventional newspapers.11 A true marketplace of ideas existed in which there was relatively easy access to the channels of communication.

Access advocates submit that, although newspapers of the present are superficially similar to those of 1791, the press of today is in reality very different from that known in the early years of our national existence. In the past half century, a communications revolution has seen the introduction of radio and television into our lives, the promise of a global community through the

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use of communications satellites, and the specter of a "wired" nation by means of an expanding cable television network with two-way capabilities. The printed press, it is said, has not escaped the effects of this revolution. Newspapers have become big business, and there are far fewer of them to serve a larger literate population.12 Chains of newspapers, national newspapers, national wire and news services, and one-newspaper towns13 are the dominant features of a press that has become noncompetitive and enormously powerful and influential in its capacity to manipulate popular opinion and change the course of events. Major metropolitan newspapers have collaborated to establish news services national in scope.14 Such national news organizations provide syndicated "interpretive reporting" as well as syndicated features and commentary, all of which can serve as part of the new school of "advocacy journalism."

The elimination of competing newspapers in most of our large cities, and the concentration of control of media that results from the only newspaper's being [94 S.Ct. 2836] owned by the same interests which own a television station and a radio station,...

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