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U.S. v. The Progressive: 1979

Government Wins Battle, Loses War, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: The United States
Defendant: The Progressive, Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: That The Progressive magazine should be prevented from publishing an article concerning how to build a hydrogen bomb
Chief Defense Lawyer: Earl Munson, Jr.
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Thomas S. Martin and Frank M. Tuerkheimer
Judge: Robert W. Warren
Place: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Date of Hearing: March 26, 1979
Decision: Injunction forbidding The Progressive from publishing the article

SIGNIFICANCE: The court's injunction, constituting prior restraint on publication, was the first of its kind in American history.

En 1909, Robert LaFollette, the famous Progressive leader from Wisconsin, founded a monthly news magazine in Madison, Wisconsin called The Progressive. The Progressive movement enjoyed some success as a third-party movement in American politics into the 1920s, and the magazine enjoyed a wide circulation. After LaFollette's 1924 bid for the presidency, which won 16% of the popular vote, third parties such as the Progressives largely disappeared as a force in American politics until the 1992 campaign of H. Ross Perot. Today, the magazine has a small but loyal audience of approximately 50,000 subscribers.

In 1978, the magazine commissioned freelance writer Howard Morland to write an article concerning government secrecy in the area of energy and nuclear weapons. Energy and nuclear issues were Morland's specialty, and after months of extensive background research Morland wrote "The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It, Why We're Telling It." On February 27, 1979, Samuel H. Day, Jr., the magazine's managing editor, sent a copy of Morland's draft to the Department of Energy's offices in Germantown, Maryland. Day asked the DOE to verify the technical accuracy of Morland's draft before the magazine published it.

John A. Griffin, DOE's director of classification, and Duane C. Sewell, assistant secretary of energy for defense programs, read the article with alarm. They determined that it contained sensitive material, material that constituted "restricted data" under the Atomic Energy Act. On March 1, 1979, Lynn R. Coleman, DOE's General Counsel, phoned Day and Erwin Knoll, another editor involved in the Morland article. Coleman asked that the magazine not publish the article, stating that in addition to DOE, the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency believed publication would damage U.S. efforts to control the worldwide spread of nuclear weapons. The next day, Sewell met with Day, Knoll, and Ronald Carbon, the magazine's publisher.

Despite the government's efforts, on March 7, 1979, the magazine informed Coleman that it would publish the Morland article. The next day, the government sued the magazine in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, and asked the court to stop publication.

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