The Supreme Court on Freedom of the Press: Decisions and Dissents

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

Chapter One
INTRODUCTION: THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND THE PRESS

Freedom of the press in America begins but does not end with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The relevant words for this study are: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press." Freedom of the press is based primarily upon those words and upon the written decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The First Amendment is old, yet its words and the meanings in them have been renewed and revitalized by decisions of the Supreme Court. Interestingly enough, most of these decisions are less than fifty years old.

The Supreme Court has always rendered its decisions on freedom of expression in the light of the First Amendment's specific restrictions upon congressional power to legislate in the area. In so doing, the Court has often taken into consideration the intentions of the men who wrote the Constitution.

That there have been difficulties and disagreements in ascertaining the intentions of the framers of the Constitution is

-3-

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