The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Expression

Why did the Court reverse the state court libel ruling?

The U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that the central purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure citizens the right to freely criticize government officials. The Court considered the Times case “against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The Court also reasoned that sometimes the press would veer away from reporting on important matters if it could be punished for every mistake: “That erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and that it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the breathing space that they need to survive.”


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