Bridges v. California Times-Mirror Co. v. California 314 U.S. 252 (1941)

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In these two companion cases, handed down by the Supreme Court on the same day, a bare majority of five Justices overturned exercises of the contempt power against Harry Bridges, a left-wing union leader, and the Los Angeles Times, then a bastion of the state's conservative business establishment, for their out-of-court remarks concerning pending cases. Bridges had been found in contempt for a telegram that predicted a longshoreman's strike in the event of a judicial decree hostile to his union; the Times had been punished for an editorial that threatened a judge with political reprisals if he showed leniency toward convicted labor racketeers.

Justice hugo l. black's majority opinion, joined by Justices william o. douglas, frank murphy, stanley f. reed, and robert h. jackson, held that both the telegram and the editorial had been protected by the first amendment via the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment against abridgment by the states; neither pronouncement constituted a clear and present danger to the administration of criminal justice in California courts. Justice felix frankfurter, writing for himself and three others, dissented.

Frankfurter's dissent represented the original majority view when the cases were first argued in the spring of 1941. But the defection of Justice Murphy over the summer and the later addition of Justice Jackson produced a new majority for Black by October when the two cases were reargued.

Michael E. Parrish

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Bridges v. California Times-Mirror Co. v. California 314 U.S. 252 (1941)

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