Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo: Case & Summary

Instructor: Tisha Collins Batis

Tisha is a licensed real estate agent in Texas. She holds bachelor's in legal studies and a master's degree in criminal justice.

In this lesson, a summary of the case of Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo will be provided. Upon completion, the reader should have a strong knowledge of this case and an understanding of why the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision made in this case.

Miami Herald Publishing Co. V. Tornillo

In 1913, a law was enacted in the state of Florida that affected newspapers statewide. Florida Statute 104.38 was also known as the right to reply statute which gave candidates for public office a right to reply to criticisms published about them. The statute was incredibly specific, giving candidates the right to publish their replies in the same section of the newspaper using the same amount of space as the original publication and the same type of type as the original publication. Additionally, it allowed the issue to rise to a criminal level as a first degree misdemeanor if an individual or firm failed to comply with the statute.

Decades later, criticisms were published in the Miami Herald about Pat Tornillo. At the time, Tornillo was the executive director of the Classroom Teachers Association and a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. On September 20, 1972 and September 29, 1972, there were criticisms of Tornillo's candidacy published in the Miami Herald. Tornillo demanded that his replies to the criticisms be published verbatim in the Herald and he was ignored. He filed suit in the matter.


Case Summary and Decision

Tornillo originally filed suit in Florida Circuit Court. He sought relief in the matter based on Florida Statute 104.38 which gave him the right to reply to the publications about him. Unfortunately for Tornillo, the lower court found the statute in question to be unconstitutional and dismissed Tornillo's case. He appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court. There, the lower court's decision was reversed and remanded. The Florida Supreme Court held that the statute was not unconstitutional and that civil remedies were available to Tornillo. Finally, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court for final decision.

Originally, there was a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisdiction in the matter. It was believed that the lower court's decision was not final. However, the case of North Dakota State Pharmacy Board v. Snyder's Stores (1973) was reviewed. In that case, remand had been made so that further proceedings could occur in regards to Snyder's application for a permit allowing the operation of a drug store. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the decision there was final and used that case to assert their jurisdiction in Tornillo's case.

As mentioned earlier, the Florida statute that allowed Tornillo to file suit in the first place was enacted in 1913. Until Tornillo filed suit, there had only been one other case that had been decided under this statute. Therefore, there wasn't much for the U.S. Supreme Court to go on regarding this matter. The situation they were facing at the time was the decision made by the Florida Supreme Court which held that the statute was not unconstitutional. Unfortunately for Tornillo, the U.S. Supreme Court Justices did not see it that way.

The Florida Statute as it stood actually violated the First Amendment protection for free speech. While many see that amendment as a right to say what they want, it also protects the right to not say something. In this case, the Miami Herald had the right to publish the criticisms against Tornillo as well as the right not to publish his replies to those criticisms. Additionally, the Miami Herald wasn't subject to criminal penalties in the matter.

There were several issues raised regarding the constitutionality of the Florida Statute. The press has freedom under the First Amendment to publish what it sees fit. The editors have the right to determine what will be published. Further, there is an expense associated with printing newspapers. The statute itself, if enforced, would cause undue expenses for the company affected. In the Miami Herald's situation, they would have to publish Tornillo's replies as per the statute's guidelines which would cause an undue expense for them. Finally, the government should not have control of the press. The statute as it was had the ability to force the newspaper to publish replies via certain guidelines.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices decided this case on June 25, 1974, in a unanimous vote. The justices found that the existing Florida statute was, in fact, unconstitutional. Chief Justice Burger delivered the opinion of the court and asserted that the Florida statute actually intruded on the functions of newspaper editors and placed a penalty on the content published in those newspapers. The Miami Herald emerged the victor in this case, and Tornillo did not receive the opportunity to publish his replies as initially demanded.

U.S. Supreme Court

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