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Bartnicki v. Vopper

United States Supreme Court
532 U.S. 514 (2001)


Facts

In May 1993, Bartnicki, the teacher union’s chief negotiator, called Kane, the president of that union, and engaged in a lengthy conversation about the status of their collective bargaining negotiations. These negotiations were receiving significant media attention at the time. An unidentified third party intercepted and recorded that call. In part of the conversation, Kane threatened violence to the school board members if the negotiations did not go favorably. In early fall of 1993, the parties accepted a non-binding arbitration proposal that was generally favorable to the teachers. Vopper (defendant), a radio broadcaster, obtained that recording from the unidentified source and played the tape on his public affairs talk show. Kane and Bartnicki (plaintiffs) filed suit against Vopper for invasion of privacy under federal and state wiretapping laws in federal district court. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), as well as provisions of Pennsylvania State law, prohibited the interception of electronic, oral, and wire communications. The district court ruled in favor of Kane and Bartnicki. The court of appeals reversed on the grounds that the First Amendment protected the radio broadcast. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)

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Dissent (Rehnquist, C.J.)

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