Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978)

Zurcher v. Stanford Daily is a noteworthy U.S. Supreme Court decision calibrating First and Fourth Amendment values. Zurcher also illustrates interaction among the Court, Congress, and the states.

Zurcher arose from a protest occasioned by Stanford University Hospital dismissing two employees— a black janitor and a Chicano neurosurgeon. On April 9, 1971, when law enforcement officials attempted to remove demonstrators occupying the hospital’s administrative offices, nine police were injured by demonstrators wielding sticks and clubs. One of officers saw someone photographing the encounter. That person was a Stanford Daily staffer. On April 11, the Daily published a special edition covering the confrontation including photographs the staffer had taken. Acting under a warrant, police searched the Daily offices. The warrant contained no assertion that members of the Daily staff were involved in unlawful acts at the hospital.

Zurcher contested the constitutionality of this ‘‘third-party’’ search.

Writing for a majority of five, Justice White sided with police chief James Zurcher. After observing that ‘‘[w]here ... materials sought to be seized may be protected by the First Amendment, ... requirements of the Fourth Amendment must be applied with ‘scrupulous exactitude.’’’ White concluded that ‘‘preconditions for a warrant ... afford sufficient protection against ... harms ... assertedly threatened by warrants for searching newspaper offices.’’

In 1980, responding to Zurcher, Congress adopted the Privacy Protection Act (PPA). The PPA states that

government may not search a newsroom for the purpose of obtaining work product or documentary materials relating to a criminal investigation or criminal offense, if there is reason to believe that the work product belongs to someone who will publish it in a public communication...

Nine states also expanded legal protection against such third-party searches.

JAMES C. FOSTER

References and Further Reading

  • Bell, Bernard W., Judge White and the Exercise of Judicial Power: The Populism of Justice Byron R. White: Media Cases and Beyond, University of Colorado Law Review 74 (2003): 1425.
  • Marcus, Philip H., Comment: A Fourth Amendment Gag Order—Upholding Third Party Searches at the Expense of First Amendment Freedom of Association Guarantees, University of Pittsburgh Law Review 47 (1985): 257.
  • Meltzer, Daniel J., Jurisdiction and Remedies: Congress, Courts, and Constitutional Remedies, Georgetown Law Journal 86 (1998): 2537.

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