Branzburg v. Hayes case raised a question of journalists’ preemptive right not to disclose evidence about the confidential sources or data gathered. The case was combined with the other two precedents: In re Pappas and United States v. Caldwell. The discussion challenged the US First Amendment values that prohibit to establish laws that may infringe the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.


Branzburg v. Hayes 408 US 665 (1972) summary states that the US Supreme Court decided that the freedom of the press assured by the First Amendment did not grant reporter’s privilege from testifying in a grand jury. The court hearings and giving information that was told under a confidentiality agreement between a journalist and a source.

Paul Branzburg, a future suitor, was working as a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal. The development of his career led Branzburg to report on the matter of illegal production and the use of drugs in the local region of Louisville. In 1969, the journalist wrote and published an article about people who were extracting hashish from marijuana.

Branzburg promised his sources of information that he would not disclose any data about them. Nevertheless, after a while, the report was subpoenaed to testify about the evidence on the situation around illegal drugs. Branzburg knew that he would be protected by the First Amendment and refused to expose his sources.

However, the court concluded that Kentucky and the US constitutional law there was no reporter’s privilege. Branzburg filed a petition to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, but it denied to accept an appeal. After that, the journalist submitted a writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court against a defendant, judge John P. Hayes.

The case of Branzburg v. Hayes was remarkable due to a discussion around shield laws. Shield laws ensure that journalists get a full or qualified privilege to deny to give information about people and sources that reveal confidential data for the creation of articles.

In addition to Branzburg, there were two other journalists, Paul Pappas from Massachusetts and Earl Caldwell from California, that refused to testify in the grand jury about their sources. Both reporters had written articles about the illegal actions involved drugs at the Black Panther Party.

The majority of judges in the 5-4 decision decided that all cases did not relate to First Amendment values. Justice Byron R. White stated that the court did not ask journalists to disclose their sources, and it was not prohibited from using any confidential data.

Instead, the situation raised a question of whether journalists’ liability for participating in grand jury hearings would affect the ability of reporters to get sensitive information. Therefore, reporters should be provided with the preemptive right not to testify.

The US Supreme Court stated that it is of crucial importance for the state to compel reporters to present information in front of grand juries; thus, there were no grounds for the First Amendment infringement.

Justice Byron R. White indicated that even though journalists collected data from sources confidentially, they should not get a reporter’s privilege to conceal information from a state investigation. Other citizens of the country are obliged to testify in grand jury when they get confidential information. Therefore, the court decided that journalists should have the same liability because there was no command to disclose any sources indiscriminately.