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

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
FREEDOM FROM PRIOR RESTRAINT: LICENSING AND DISCRIMINATORY TAXATION

As WE HAVE SEEN, an essential element of freedom of the press is the concept that a citizen does not require a government license to publish any printed material. This right to publish is the same whether it involves a giant corporation launching yet another mass magazine or an individual citizen producing a mimeographed handout. Both are exercising a right that belongs to all Americans.

The authoritarian English licensing system ended in 1695. Since then, both the English and American press have been leery of any government efforts to revive practices that smack of licensing. American courts have become more intolerant of licensing than any other restrictive device. (A major exception to freedom from licensing today is in broadcasting, which requires regulation and licensing for the technical reason of preventing one broadcaster from interfering with the signal of another. The licensing of broadcasting is discussed in Chapter 13, "Freedom of Broadcasting.")

State and local governments ordinarily require licenses for most business enterprises; such a license tax has been so long accepted that few understand the censorship potential in the discretion the official has to issue or withhold the license.


THE LONG STRUGGLE AGAINST THE LICENSOR

Curiously the major cases that enabled the Supreme Court to define the modern limits of licensing or license taxes as ap-

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