THERE IS AN AFFINITY between journalists and the law. Many newspapermen begin their careers on the police or the court- house beat and become fascinated with the law and its intricacies. Lawyers and judges, for their part, are often keen observers and critics of the press. In the course of their day-to-day coverage of the news, journalists sometimes have become unwitting actors in legal contests and occasionally, because an issue of freedom of the press was involved, even litigants in great constitutional decisions. The New York Times libel case ( Times v. Sullivan), the Dr. Sam Sheppard murder trial, the Alabama election day editorial case ( Mills v. Alabama), the "Desperate Hours" privacy contest ( Time v. Hill), and the televising of the Billie Sol Estes trial are all recent examples.
In my study of constitutional law as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I became deeply interested in what the Supreme Court of the United States has said about liberty in general and freedom of expression in particular. The law and the media of communication run through all of American life. When issues involving communication have come before the Supreme Court, the resulting Court decisions have held words charged with almost magical power and persuasiveness. Some of the noblest writing in the English language has resulted when the Court's decisions have touched upon freedom of thought and expression.