Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Censorship, Restrained

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Censorship, Restrained

Article excerpt

A free nation remains so by the everyday exercise of liberty, which was given a workout recently in a U.S. court in Texas

The ruling U.S. District Judge Edward C. Prado issued in a nearly deserted San Antonio courthouse late one Friday afternoon last month barely made local headlines. It has gone entirely unremarked in the press anywhere else in the nation.

We feel compelled to note it here because Prado was asked to order the most fundamental insult against the First Amendment -- the prior censorship of a newspaper, in this case the San Antonio Express-News.

Prado's quick and forceful refusal to invoke prior restraint is a cheering affirmation of how far we've come since the U.S. government tried to stop The New York Times and other newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Back then, the U.S. Justice Department had no problem finding a New York-based federal judge willing to enforce prior restraint with a temporary restraining order that would later be overturned in a landmark decision by a divided Supreme Court. Prado, by contrast, took only half an hour of deliberation before issuing his Nov. 17 ruling against censorship.

No one will ever confuse the digital recordings leaked to the Express- News in this case with the Pentagon Papers. No national secrets are even arguably at stake in the San Antonio recordings -- just the grubby details of an alleged vote-buying scheme inside City Hall. And this time around, it wasn't the government arguing for prior restraint, but defense lawyers for two indicted city councilmen. …

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