Associated Press v. United States
Associated Press v. United States is an important 1945 Supreme Court case which helped redefine the application of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The point of this legislation was to prevent businesses from engaging in anti-competitive practices. The case began in federal district court.
At the same time, the membership of the Associated Press was comprised of approximately 1200 member newspapers. News was collected by direct employees of the Associated Press, as well as foreign news agencies the Associated Press had contracted with and employees of member newspapers. The foundation of the government's case in Associated Press v. United States was the charge that the by-laws under which the organization was run prohibited member newspapers from selling news to newspapers which were not members of the United States, an unlawful practice preventing competition. The government further charged these by-laws allowed member newspapers to block competitors who were not already members of the Associated Press from joining.
In response, the Associated Press presented several arguments defending its by-laws during Associated Press v. United States. One argument was that every business has the right to decide to whom to sell and not sell work which is the product of individual efforts and labors. However, the Supreme Court rejected this argument on the grounds that the by-laws were not intended to help in this process, but were in fact specifically intended to prevent competition.
Another argument presented by the plaintiff in Associated Press v. United States was that the application of the Sherman Antitrust Act to a journalistic organization constituted a violation of the First Amendment right to a free press. However, the Supreme Court rejected this line of argument. In its majority opinion in Associated Press v. United States, the Supreme Court noted that the purpose of this section of the First Amendment is to ensure the broadest possible spectrum of news and opinion. The Supreme Court went on to note that while the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing such views, it does not prevent the government from regulating journalistic organizations which seek to themselves suppress diverse news and opinion from competing outlets.
In ruling on Associated Press v. United States, the Supreme Court also made notice of the difference between the by-laws regarding non-competing applicants to the Associated Press and those by-laws governing the applications of competing applicants. In the case of the former, they could join the Associated Press without payment of a fee pending the approval of the Board of Directors. However, competing applicants were required to receive the approval of a majority of the Associated Press' regular members, as well as several other unreasonable obstacles to membership designed to prevent their admission. The Supreme Court found that these restrictions of trade were violations of the law.
By ruling in favor of the government in Associated Press v. United States, the Supreme Court affirmed that journalistic enterprises were subject to antitrust regulation.