Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bartnicki v. Vopper case brief

Bartnicki v. Vopper case brief summary
532 U.S. 514 (2001)

Petitioners sued respondents, alleging that respondents violated wiretapping statutes by repeatedly publishing the contents of a telephone conversation that had been surreptitiously intercepted by an unknown person. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of respondents, finding the statutes invalid on freedom of speech grounds. The petition for writ of certiorari to the appellate court was granted.

Petitioners alleged that an unknown person intercepted petitioners' telephone conversation regarding a matter of public concern and that respondent media representatives published the contents of the conversation knowing that the recording had been obtained illegally, in violation of federal and state wiretapping statutes. In petitioners' suit against respondents for damages, the appellate court determined that the statutes were invalid.


  • On writ of certiorari, the court affirmed the judgment, determining that the application of the statutes under the circumstances violated the First Amendment. 
  • Petitioners and the Government identified two interests served by the federal and state statutes, the interest in removing an incentive for parties to intercept private conversations and the interest in minimizing the harm to persons whose conversations have been illegally intercepted. 
  • However, the court determined that the interests could not justify the statutes' restrictions on speech.
Judgment was affirmed because the disclosures made by respondents were protected by theFirst Amendment.

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