Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)
Requires reporters to testify when subpoenaed by a grand jury. But so split that lower courts have read as establishing a qualified First Amendment privilege.
5-4 decision (4 written opinions)
Majority (4/Justice White):
- Journalists do not have a First Amendment right to withhold the identify of confidential sources or information from a grand jury.
- Public interest in crime. Better to do something about it than write about it.
- Obligation of everyone to respond to grand jury subpoenas and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation.
- But officials can't harass journalists under the guise of fighting crime.
- First Amendment doesn't protect the average citizen from disclosing information to a grand jury. Reporters are no better than average citizens.
- Congress and the states can fashion their own shield laws, or statutory privilege, to protect journalists from testifying.
Concurring (Justice Powell): Agreed with the outcome, but not the reasoning.
- Invited journalists to file motions requesting hearings on the propriety of subpoenas.
- Reporters shouldn't be asked to identify confidential sources without good cause.
- Case-by-case balancing of freedom of the press and the obligation of all citizens to give relevant testimony
Dissent (Justice Stewart, joined by Brennan, Marshall):
- Would have granted a qualified privilege.
- Reporter's constitutional right to confidential sources stems from broad societal interest in full and free flow of information to the public.
- Otherwise inviting law enforcement to annex journalists as investigative arm.
- Confidential sources are necessary to newsgathering process.
- Disclosing names would lead to self-censorship.
Dissent (Justice Douglas):
- Would have granted an absolute, constitutional right to reporters to refuse to take part in any judicial proceeding.
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