University alum refined use of First Amendment

Chief Justice Burger wrote influential decisions on many notable First Amendment issues.
ù Wisconsin vs. Yoder (1975) held that the Wisconsin compulsory school attendance law could not require the children of Amish parents to attend the state’s secondary schools. The parents’ right to free exercise of religion, the court held, outweighed the state’s interests in requiring the education of Amish children.
ù Richmond Newspapers, Inc. vs. Virginia (1980) ruled that criminal trials must remain open to reporters.
ù Miami Herald vs. Tornillo (1974) declared invalid a Florida law that required newspapers to offer space for a response from a political candidate who had been attacked in the pages of the paper.
Likewise, CBS, ABC and NBC vs. Federal Communications Comission (1981) nullified the “fairness doctrine,” which required equal time for minor candidates, thus eliminating an obstacle to televised presidential debates.
ù Wooley vs. Maynard (1977) declared that individuals are not required to display license plates with messages that are offensive to their deeply held views.
ù Lemon vs. Kurtzman (1971) ensured the separation of the church and state when it declared statutes that financed secular activities in religious schools unconstitutional.

As chief justice, Burger wasn’t always in favor of expanding First Amendment rights. He restricted expanding the constitutional right to gather news. Branzburg vs. Hayes (1972) ruled that Louisville reporter Paul Branzburg, who had observed and written about two people who had possessed marijuana, had to testify before a local grand jury.
Since the First Amendment did not protect a reporter from revealing his or her sources, many states, including Minnesota, strengthened their reporter’s shield laws to protect news-gathering rights.
Burger also wrote a dissenting opinion in the famous Pentagon Papers case, The New York Times Co. vs. United States (1971), which forbade the government to prevent the media from publishing anything under any circumstances.
— Sam Black