The Pentagon Papers Case and the Wikileaks Controversy: National Security and the First Amendment

27 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2011

See all articles by Jerome A. Barron

Jerome A. Barron

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: April 18, 2011


This Essay focuses on two clashes between national security and the First Amendment - the Pentagon Papers case and the WikiLeaks controversy. The two cases are hardly exact parallels. In the Pentagon Papers case the government was seeking to enjoin publications, asking for the imposition of a prior restraint. In that context, the press received the benefit of the "heavy presumption" against prior restraints. In the WikiLeaks controversy, because the discussion centers on the possibility of a criminal prosecution against Julian Assange, there is no equivalent "heavy presumption" against such a prosecution. In each case, the actual leaker was arrested, but, in the Pentagon Papers case, the publishers were not prosecuted. Assange has not yet been the subject of a U.S. criminal prosecution, but it may happen.

The newspaper press is obviously an addressee of the First Amendment, but an issue remains as to whether a website such as WikiLeaks is part of that press. Furthermore, Assange and WikiLeaks seek to challenge the very idea and practice of government secrets altogether. Such a claim is unlikely to receive full First Amendment protection.

Keywords: WikiLeaks, Pentagon Papers, First Amendment, National Security

JEL Classification: H56, K10, K14

Suggested Citation

Barron, Jerome A., The Pentagon Papers Case and the Wikileaks Controversy: National Security and the First Amendment (April 18, 2011). Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy, 2011, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 552, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 552, Available at SSRN:

Jerome A. Barron (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

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Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-6954 (Phone)


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