Lawsuits Against Newspapers That Refused to Print Advertisements

In Miami Herald Pub. Co., Div. of Knight Newspapers, Inc. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), the Supreme Court struck down Florida's "right of reply" statute which required that if a newspaper assailed a political candidate's character or record, the candidate could demand that the newspaper print a reply of equal prominence and space. As later explained by the Supreme Court in Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Corn., 475 U.S. 1, (1986), the Florida statute directly interfered with the newspaper's right to speak in two ways. "First, the newspaper's expression of a particular viewpoint triggered an obligation to permit other speakers, with whom the newspaper disagreed, to use the newspaper's facilities to spread their own message." Second, "the newspapers 'treatment of public issues and public officials -- whether fair or unfair -- [constitutes] the exercise of editorial control and judgment.' Florida's statute interfered with this 'editorial control and judgment' by forcing the newspaper to tailor its speech to an opponent's agenda, and to respond to candidates' arguments where the newspaper might prefer to be silent." Id. at 10 (quoting Tornillo, 418 U.S. at 258). Since Tornillo, several courts have dismissed lawsuits against newspapers that have refused to print advertisements. For example, in Mississippi Gay Alliance v. Goudelock, 536 F2d 1073 (5th Cir. 1976), cert. den. 430 U.S. 982 (1977), a student newspaper at a state funded university newspaper refused to print an advertisement. The court held that the newspaper did not have to print the advertisement "because University authorities had nothing to do with the rejection and since the record suggested nothing but discretion by the editor, First Amendment interdicts judicial interference with the editorial decision." Id. at 1075. Similarly, in Chicago Joint Board v. Chicago Tribune Co. et al, 435 F.2d 470 (7th Cir. 1970), cert. den. 402 U.S. 973 (1971), where a union sought to place an advertisement in the defendant's newspaper as part of its campaign to limit the importation of foreign made clothing, the court upheld the newspaper's right not to publish the advertisement. See also United Food & Commercial Workers Local 919, etc. v. Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., (D. Conn. Nov. 12, 1991) (newspaper not required to publish union advertisement); Morrow v. USA Today Newspaper, (SDNY May 16, 1988) (newspapers not required to print prisoner's classified advertisement); Leeds v. Meltz, 85 F3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1996) (law student newspaper not required to publish advertisement).