Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether publication of lawfully obtained communications that had been recorded by an illegal wiretap is protected by the First Amendment, despite being prohibited by a statute.


The Supreme Court upheld the Third Circuit and ruled publication was protected by the First Amendment.


An illegal wiretap recorded a conversation between a union president and chief union negotiator in which the union president said: “If they’re not gonna move for three percent, we’re gonna have to go to their, their homes.… To blow off their front porches, we’ll have to do some work on some of those guys.” Various media outlets played or transcribed the tape, though the person who had illegally wire-tapped the conversation remained unknown.

Importance of Case

The Supreme Court held that publication was protected in this case. The Court found the government’s interest in deterring unlawful recording unpersuasive, writing, “The normal method of deterring unlawful conduct is to impose an appropriate punishment on the person who engages in it.” Though the Court found the government interest in privacy persuasive, “privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance,” which the Court believed was present in this case.

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