The Hughes Court (1930–41)

First Amendment

In what context did the Hughes Court rule that newspapers are not entitled to special exemptions from generally applicable laws?

The Hughes Court ruled 5–4 in Associated Press v. NLRB that the First Amendment rights of the Associated Press (AP) were not violated when a court ordered the media company to rehire an editorial employee allegedly terminated for his membership in a labor organization. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) contended that the AP had violated a provision in the National Labor Relations Act that gave employees the right to organize, form, and join labor organizations of their choosing. As one of their defenses, the AP contended that the NLRB violated the free-press rights of the newspaper. The AP argued that it must have an unfettered right to determine who its editors will be.

The Court disagreed with AP. Justice Owen J. Roberts, writing for the majority, said: “The publisher of a newspaper has no special immunity from the application of general laws. He has no special privilege to invade the rights and liberties of others. He must answer for libel. He may be punished for contempt of court. He is subject to the anti-trust laws.” The majority reasoned that a newspaper can discharge an employee for poor performance but not for joining a labor union.


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