Books -- Free Press V. Fair Trial, Supreme Court Decisions since 1807 by Douglas S. Campbell

Article excerpt

There is no lack of books, law review articles, and textbook chapters on the conflict between a free press and a fair trial. However, author Douglas S. Campbell has taken a different approach in his historical survey of 30 major U.S. Supreme Court cases that focus on the problems of assembling an impartial jury while providing media access to the courts.

Campbell handles 30 major cases chronologically, each in a separate section of no less than four pages intended for non-lawyers. Beginning with Aaron Burr's trial for treason in 1807 and ending with Mu'Min v. Virginia, a 1991 case that considers racial bias, Campbell explores the tradition of an impartial jury. He takes the reader through 10 cases decided in the 1800s and early 1900s before he reaches the seminal cases of this century, such as Sheppard v. Maxwell and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart.

This book is not a casebook with long excerpts of opinions, and it is not a media law textbook with a summary of facts and a few sentences for the ruling and meaning. Rather, Campbell attempts to put each case in context through the use of legal background, and by focusing on issues, precedent, lower court decisions, and writings from scholars. A summary of the court's analysis, including detailed summaries of majority, plurality, concurring, and dissenting opinions, and a section on the significance of the case round out the treatment.

The circumstances surrounding each case is one of the best features of his approach, because the author provides information not available in the opinion. For example, Campbell explains that Billie Sol Estes, defendant in the 1965 Estes v. Texas case that resulted in the ban of cameras from the courtroom, was involved in several schemes designed to swindle farmers into buying nonexistent fertilizer tanks. And despite language in the opinion that makes it seem cameramen were scrambling about the courtroom throughout the trial, Campbell notes that only four cameras were allowed in a booth at the back of the courtroom. …