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Branzburg v. Hayes

Branzburg v. Hayes


Branzburg v. Hayes: The Background

The case of Branzburg v. Hayes begins when Branzburg, a reporter, wrote a story after observing and interviewing several people using drugs in a two-county area in the state of Kentucky. The story, which appeared in a Louisville newspaper, gave way to a series of lawsuits which were filed to dig deeper into the state’s drug problems. On two occasions Branzburg was called to testify and disclose the identities of his confidential sources.

The case of Branzburg v. Hayes was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that ultimately invalidated the use of the First Amendment as a defense for news reporters or writers who are summoned to testify before a grand jury.

The case of Branzburg v. Hayes was argued before the United States Supreme Court on February 23rd of 1972 and decided on June 29th of the same year. The case was heard by Chief Justice Warren Burger and the following associate justices: William Douglas; William Brennan Jr.; Byron White; Harry Blackmun; Thurgood Marshall; Potter Steward; William Rehnquist; and Lewis Powell Jr.

Branzburg v. Hayes: The Issue

The issue surrounding Branzburg v. Hayes asked whether the requirement that news reporters appear and testify before federal grand juries violates the freedoms of press and speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.


Branzburg v. Hayes: The Decision 

The decision laid forth in Branzburg v. Hayes stated that reporters are required to disclose confidential information to grand juries because such information is regarded as paramount and compelling to state interest. Therefore, the Supreme Court of the United States in Branzburg v. Hayes stated that the requirement to reveal said sources do not violate the protections offered by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The case of Branzburg v. Hayes was decided via a fiercely split decision. The United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 judgment ruled against the existence of reportorial privilege in the Press clause of the First Amendment. Arguing for the majority, Justice Byron White declared that the press in this matter was asking the Court to grant special privileges that other citizens of the United States do not enjoy.

Since the decision laid forth in Branzburg v. Hayes, the case has been cited in subsequent Supreme Court matters.