Time, Inc. v. Hill/Concurrence Douglas

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United States Supreme Court

385 U.S. 374

Time, Inc.  v.  Hill

 Argued: Oct. 18 and 19, 1966. --- Decided: Jan 9, 1967


Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring.

As intimated in my separate opinion in Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 88, 86 S.Ct. 669, 15 L.Ed.2d 597 and in the opinion of my Brother BLACK in the same case, id., at 94, 86 S.Ct., at 680, state action to abridge freedom of the press is barred by the First and Fourteenth Amendments where the discussion concerns matters in the public domain. The episode around which this book was written had been news of the day for some time. The most that can be said is that the novel, the play, and the magazine article revived that interest. A fictionalized treatment of the event is, in my view, as much in the public domain as would be a water color of the assassination of a public official. It seems to me irrelevant to talk of any right of privacy in this context. Here a private person is catapulted into the news by events over which he had no control. He and his activities are then in the public domain as fully as the matters at issue in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686. Such privacy as a person normally has ceases when his life has ceased to be private.

Once we narrow the ambit of the First Amendment, creative writing is imperiled and the 'chilling effect' on free expression which we feared in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 487, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 1121, 14 L.Ed.2d 22, [*] is almost sure to take place. That is, I fear, the result once we allow an exception for 'knowing or reckless falsity.' Such an elusive exception gives the jury, the finder of the facts, broad scope and almost unfettered discretion. A trial is a chancy thing, no matter what safeguards are provided. To let a jury on this record return a verdict or not as it chooses is to let First Amendment rights ride on capricious or whimsical circumstances, for emotions and prejudices often do carry the day. The exception for 'knowing or reckless falsity' is therefore, in my view, an abridgment of speech that is barred by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. But as indicated in my Brother BLACK'S opinion I have joined the Court's opinion in order to make possible an adjudication that controls this litigation. Cf. Mr. Justice Rutledge, concurring, Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 113, 134, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 1041, 1051, 89 L.Ed. 1495.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).