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Saxbe v. Washington Post Co.

417 U.S. 843 (1974)

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Saxbe v. Washington Post Co.

United States Supreme Court

417 U.S. 843 (1974)

Facts

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (the bureau) promulgated Policy Statement 1220.1A (the policy statement), which prohibited personal, face-to-face interviews between members of the press and individual inmates at medium-security and maximum-security prisons. Under general prison policies, only family, legal counsel, and religious counsel could request and be granted personal visits with inmates. Friends of inmates received limited personal-visitation opportunities. However, under the policy statement, members of the press were provided several other alternative methods of accessing prisons and gathering information related to prison operations and conditions. The Washington Post Co. and a reporter for its publication, the Washington Post (plaintiffs), filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the policy statement’s constitutionality after being denied a face-to-face interview with an inmate. The district court held that the total ban on press-inmate interviews violated the Constitution, but a selective policy based on the potential for disciplinary issues arising from press interviews was permissible. The administrative officials of the bureau (the bureau officials) (defendants) appealed. The director of the bureau testified that a selective policy would cause broad hostility and resentment by allowing press interviews with some inmates and not others, and that a basic rule of effective prison management was to treat inmates equally whenever feasible. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The Supreme Court granted the bureau officials’ petition for a writ of certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stewart, J.)

Dissent (Powell, J.)

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