less than 1 minute read

Near v. Minnesota

Prior Restraint

Prior restraint is one way governments have sought to restrict the publication of materials determined objectionable by censoring them before publication. One such Minnesota law prohibiting printing materials viewed as "malicious" or "scandalous" was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. This sort of censorship is unusual in the United States as well as other democratic nations.

Censorship of this type has roots in English law; Henry VIII instituted such a censorship law in England in 1534. In England, this law was challenged in 1644 by John Milton's essay, Areopagitica; the law was repealed in 1695. However, the English government still had the power to prosecute the publishers of materials who criticized government practices, regardless of the truth or falsity of the statements, on the basis of "seditious libel."

These same laws and practices were applied to early American colonists by the British. In colonial America, a landmark 1735 decision cleared John Peter Zenger of charges of publishing libelous statements criticizing programs of the colonial governor because Zenger's accusations were true. Using the truth of statements as a defense against libel did not become acceptable in England until 1868.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Near v. Minnesota - Significance, Prior Restraint, Further Readings