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Zurcher v. The Stanford Daily

What The First Amendment Protects And What The Fourth And Fourteenth Amendments Prohibit, The Privacy Protection Act


James Zurcher, Chief of Police of Palo Alto


The Stanford Daily

Petitioner's Claim

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments did not prohibit third party search warrants, even if the third party is not suspected of a crime, and the First Amendment does not protect newspapers from such searches.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Robert K. Booth

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Jerome B. Falk, Jr.

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Potter Stewart, (William J. Brennan, Jr., did not participate)


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

31 May 1978


Reversed a district court's ruling that a state is prevented by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments from issuing a search warrant to a third party not suspected of a crime.


The Court ruled that the First Amendment would not protect newspapers and other media outlets from third party search warrants and that such search warrants were not overly intrusive into the daily operations of newspapers.


As a direct result of the Court's decision Congress passed the Privacy Protection Act in 1980. It required all law enforcement officers, local, state and federal, to use subpoenas when attempting to gain potential evidence from the media. The only time a search warrant can be used is when there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the materials will be destroyed if a subpoena is issued.

Related Cases

  • Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972).
  • Minneapolis & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, 460 U.S. 575 (1983).
  • Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 408 U.S. 221 (1987).
  • Leathers v. Medlock, 499 U.S. 439 (1991).
  • Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 U.S. 633 (1991).


Cornell. http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/

Privacy Protection Act, http://stasi.bradley.edu/privacy/PPA.html

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980