Supreme Court turns away 3 First Amendment cases

Monday, February 23, 1998

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced its refusal to hear three First Amendment cases that involved issues of media access, casino gaming advertising and a T-shirt sales ban.

In the media-access case, Dallas Morning News v. U.S., the Court refused to hear an appeal of court orders that sealed three sets of documents in the Oklahoma City bombing cases of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Several news organizations were seeking access to the three sets of documents at issue: (1) materials in defendant Terry Nichols' motion to suppress evidence; (2) an exhibit in the motion to suppress that contained Nichols' nine-hour statement to authorities; and (3) motions for separate trials filed by both McVeigh and Nichols.

The media representatives asserted both common-law rights of access and First Amendment rights to view the documents in full form. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected these claims in U.S. v. McVeigh, concluding that “substantial portions of the documents that were made publicly available have provided the press and the public with a constitutionally sufficient opportunity to understand the decisions at issue.”

The Court also refused to hear an appeal by the government, U.S. v. Valley Broadcasting, of a 9th Circuit decision striking down a federal law banning broadcast advertising of casino gaming. The 9th Circuit determined the ban on advertising commercial free-speech rights.

The third First Amendment case the Court refused to hear was Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial v. Stanton. A federal appeals court had ruled that a National Park Service regulation banning the sale of T-shirts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. did not violate the First Amendment.