Efforts to Stop Publication

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Although conviction of Ellsberg after publication remained a possibility, the government wanted more: to stop the damaging information from getting into the hands of the public. It wanted prior restraint on publication. Naturally, the U.S. government believed it was protecting national security from an outrageous theft. Despite a strong argument that national security would be compromised, the U.S. government did not achieve a permanent prior restraint. Two days after the Times began publishing Pentagon Papers documents, U.S. attorney general John Mitchell sent Justice Department lawyers to a federal district court to obtain a temporary injunction against the paper. Anticipating such a result, someone gave copies of the Pentagon Papers to several other U.S. papers. Then, when the Times was enjoined from publishing them, The Washington Post started publishing them. When the U.S. government enjoined the Post, the Boston Globe began publishing them, and so on. After legal maneuvering, the cases were consolidated and appealed swiftly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 against the Nixon Administration. Although all nine justices—writing separate opinions—upheld the concept of no prior restraint, they disagreed on whether such restraint could be justified by the extraordinary circumstances in this case. Justices Hugo L. Black, William O. Douglas, and—to a lesser degree— William J. Brennan,...

(The entire section is 473 words.)