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Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
Earl Caldwell
In re Pappas, No. 70-94
Branzburg v. Hayes, No. 70-85
(Solicitor General, argued the cause for the United States)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
Facts of the Case 

Earl Caldwell, a reporter for the New York Times assigned to cover the Black Panther Party, was served a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury investigating possible criminal violations by the party. The subpoena required him to testify in secret about the party's activities. Arguing that testifying would destroy his relationship with sources within the party and thereby "suppress vital First Amendment freedoms . . . by driving a wedge of distrust and silence between the news media and the militants," Caldwell and his employer filed a motion to quash the subpoena.

A Federal District Court denied the motion to quash, but Caldwell nonetheless refused to testify and was held in contempt. Caldwell appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the contempt order on the grounds that requiring Caldwell to testify would cause him to limit the scope of future reporting, amounting to censorship and violating the First Amendment protection of freedom of the press.


Did the First Amendment's protection of freedom of the press protect Caldwell from appearing and testifying before the grand jury?


No. The Court found that requiring reporters to disclose confidential information to grand juries served a "compelling" and "paramount" state interest and did not violate the First Amendment. Justice White argued that since the case involved no government intervention to impose prior restraint, and no command to publish sources or to disclose them indiscriminately, there was no Constitutional violation. The fact that reporters receive information from sources in confidence does not privilege them to withhold that information during a government investigation; the average citizen is often forced to disclose information received in confidence when summoned to testify in court.

Cite this Page
UNITED STATES v. CALDWELL. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 03 June 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_57>.
UNITED STATES v. CALDWELL, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_57 (last visited June 3, 2015).
"UNITED STATES v. CALDWELL," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 3, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_57.