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No room for prior restraint



Published: Tue, May 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Thirty years ago, The New York Times began publishing what came to be known as the "Pentagon Papers," which provided an insiders view of how the United States of America became bogged down in the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon Papers showed that the Johnson administration had lied to the American people time and again over a period of years about the war. And though it was the Johnson administration that took the biggest hit with the publication of the papers, it was the Nixon administration that took the extraordinary step of attempting to have the Pentagon Papers suppressed before publication.

It was the first time in the history of the United States that the government sought to impose a prior restraint on the publication of material as a matter of national security. The Supreme Court rejected the government's request by a vote of 9-0.

Serious issue: Prior restraint is an extraordinary attack on the First Amendment and it is an action that no court should take lightly. With that in mind, it should not come as a surprise that a U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Atlanta took less than an hour last week to overturn a federal district judge's ruling that barred publication of a satire of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind."

"The Wind Done Gone" by Alice Randall retells the store from an African-American perspective.

The Mitchell heirs have every right to be offended by Randall's irreverent skewering of GWTW, but they have no right to keep the American people from reading it.

The Mitchell Estate's lawyers say they'll take their case to the Supreme Court. Let's see if all nine members of today's court believe as strongly in the First Amendment as the justices of 1971 did.




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