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10 Most Important U.S. Supreme Court Cases for Journalists

Branzburg v. Hayes (1971)

Should reporters be forced to share confidential information?

Reporter Paul Branzburg interviewed several drug users in a two-county area in Kentucky, and wrote an article that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal. He was called in twice to testify about his sources before state grand juries investing drug crimes -- and refused. The question posed to the Supreme Court: Does forcing a reporter to testify before a grand jury violate his or her freedoms of speech and press?

The Supreme Court found that this so-called reporter's privilege doesn't apply if a reporter's confidential information was of a "compelling" and "paramount" state interest, couldn't be obtained any other way, and contained specific information about specific crimes. Simply put, forcing a reporter to testify before a grand jury won't violate that reporter's first amendment rights. The fact that reporters receive information in confidence doesn't give them the right to withhold that information in a government investigation. Private citizens are often required to share information learned in confidence if called upon to testify in court, and thus, so are reporters.