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5. New York Times Company v. United States (1971)
In June 1971, The New York Times ran the first installment of the “Pentagon Papers,” a 7,000-word classified document leaked by former government official Daniel Ellsberg detailing American involvement in Vietnam prior to 1968. Claiming that further publication would violate the Espionage Act and cause “grave and irreparable injury to the defense interests of the U.S.,” the Nixon Administration sought an injunction preventing both the Times and The Washington Post from going forward with future installments. In a contentious 6-3 ruling where each justice wrote a separate opinion, the Court struck down the government’s actions.
“In seeking injunctions against these newspapers, and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment,” declared Justice Hugo Black in New York Times Company v. United States. “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”
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