Richard Nixon’s opening arguments for the Supreme Court case TIME, Inc. v. Hill, April 27, 1966.
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday that requires police to obtain a warrant before searching mobile devices seized when arresting a suspect, nixonfoundation.org looks to when Richard Nixon, practicing law privately in 1966, was involved in a privacy case of his own. It was April of 1966, and Nixon was enlisted to argue for the Hill family against TIME, Inc. before the Supreme Court.
Below are the facts leading up to the TIME Inc. v. Hill case from the Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law:
In 1952, three escaped convicts took James Hill, his wife, and their five children hostage in their Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, home. After nineteen hours, the family was released unharmed. The convicts were later apprehended in a violent clash with police during which two of them were killed. In 1953, Joseph Hays’ published a novel based on the Hill family’s ordeal. When the novel was subsequently made into a play, Life Magazine (“Life”) printed an article about the play that mirrored many of its inaccuracies concerning the Hill family’s experience. Alleging that it deliberately misrepresented his story, Hill sought damages against Life. On appeal from an adverse ruling, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court remanded for a new trial where a reduced adverse ruling was imposed on Life. Following an unsuccessful appeal in the New York Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court granted Life’s owner, Time Inc. (“Time”) certiorari.
On April 27, during the opening oral arguments of the case, RN premised his claim on the fact that a fictional account is not newsworthy, and therefore freedom of the press would not be impacted by the privacy law. He stated that reading of the LIFE article would lead to a falsified conclusion of the actual events of the Hill family hostage situation. This, then, would make TIME liable for using false statements that invaded privacy for purposes of trade. RN closed with these remarks:
Limiting for example in — including in matters that are news or comic strips, a comic strip portrayal of the man who was a hero and the plane flew into the Empire State building, no liability because a comic strip was considered to be — since it was true even though it was sensational.
It isn’t sensationalism alone here.
What is involved is fictionalization for the purpose of profit.
Though the Supreme Court voted in favor of TIME, Inc. by a 5-4 vote–on the basis that states cannot judge in favor of plaintiffs “to redress false reports of matters of public interest in the absence of proof that the defendant published the report with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of the truth”–RN’s thorough and cogent argument earned the respect of the entire senior legal community. Appearing before the Supreme Court as an opponent of the press on the grounds of sound ethics was a feat that only RN, later prime presidential candidate, would partake in. Later in 1974, the Supreme Court’s decision from the TIME, Inc. v. Hill was partially overturned in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. The decision established a new standard of First Amendment protection against defamation claims brought by private individuals, but it also called for states to establish their own standards of liability for defamatory statements made about private individuals.