Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a Minnesota statute that allowed "abatement"—an injunction against future publication—of printed material deemed to be a public nuisance constituted an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.


Petition denied or appeal dismissed. Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.


A Minnesota statute passed in 1925 provided for the "abatement" of a "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical." Near v. State of Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697, 701-02 (1931). J.M. Near published a newspaper called The Saturday Press, which contained articles complaining of the mayor, district attorney, and chief of police, among others, and alleging a Jewish gambling conspiracy. As a result, the county attorney filed an action against the paper to prevent it from publishing any more issues. Near argued that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

Importance of Case

The Court held that to allow such a prior restraint on speech would violate the Constitution and run contrary to the whole purpose of the First Amendment. Although some people may attempt to justify prior restraint based on a fear of violent reaction—as the state of Minnesota had attempted to argue here—that fear is not sufficient to stop speech before it happens. The Court stated: "The danger of violent reactions becomes greater with effective organization of defiant groups resenting exposure, and, if this consideration warranted legislative interference with the initial freedom of publication, the constitutional protection would be reduced to a mere form of words." Near, 283 U.S. at 722.

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