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U.S. Supreme Court

Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978)

Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia

No. 76-1450

Argued January 11, 1978

Decided May 1, 1978

435 U.S. 829


A Virginia statute makes it a crime to divulge information regarding proceedings before a state judicial review commission that is authorized to hear complaints about judges' disability or misconduct. For printing in its newspaper an article accurately reporting on a pending inquiry by the commission and identifying the judge whose conduct was being investigated, appellant publisher was convicted of violating the statute. Rejecting appellant's contention that the statute violated the First Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: The First Amendment does not permit the criminal punishment of third persons who are strangers to proceedings before such a commission for divulging or publishing truthful information regarding confidential proceedings of the commission. Pp. 435 U. S. 837-845.

(a) A major purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs, which includes discussion of the operations of the courts and judicial conduct, and the article published by appellant's newspaper served the interests of public scrutiny of such matters. Pp. 435 U. S. 838-839.

(b) The question is not whether the confidentiality of commission proceedings serves legitimate state interests, but whether those interests are sufficient to justify encroaching on First Amendment guarantees that the imposition of criminal sanctions entails. Injury to the reputation of judges or the institutional reputation of courts is not sufficient to justify "repressing speech that would otherwise be free." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 376 U. S. 272-273. Pp. 435 U. S. 839-842.

(c) The mere fact that the legislature found a clear and present danger to the orderly administration of justice justifying enactment of the challenged statute did not preclude the necessity of proof that such danger existed. This Court has consistently rejected the argument that out-of-court comments on pending cases or grand jury investigations constituted a clear and present danger to the administration of justice. See Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252; Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U. S. 331; Craig v. Harney, 331 U. S. 367; Wood v. Georgia, 370 U. S. 375. If the "clear and present danger" test could not be satisfied in those cases, a fortiori it could not be satisfied here. Pp. 435 U. S. 842-845.

Page 435 U. S. 830

(d) Much of the risk to the orderly administration of justice can be eliminated through careful internal procedures to protect the confidentiality of commission proceedings. P. 435 U. S. 845.

217 Va. 699, 233 S.E.2d 120, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 435 U. S. 848. BRENNAN and POWELL, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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