Prior Restraint Definition AP Gov

Discover the definition of prior restraint in AP Gov and explore examples, case studies, and statistics. Learn about the implications of government censorship on freedom of speech.

What is Prior Restraint?

Prior restraint refers to the government’s attempt to prevent speech or expression before it occurs, rather than punishing it after the fact. This concept is often used in the context of media censorship, where the government tries to block the publication of certain information.

Examples of Prior Restraint

One famous example of prior restraint is the Pentagon Papers case. The U.S. government attempted to stop The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing classified documents detailing the Vietnam War, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the newspapers, upholding the principle of freedom of the press.

Case Studies

In another case, Near v. Minnesota, the Supreme Court struck down a state law that allowed prior restraint on newspapers. The Court held that such a practice violated the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press.


According to a survey conducted by the Knight Foundation, 58% of Americans believe that the government should not be able to prevent the media from publishing information, even if it could harm national security.


Overall, prior restraint is a controversial issue that raises important questions about the balance between national security and freedom of speech. While some argue that it is necessary to protect sensitive information, others believe that it is a violation of fundamental rights. The debate continues, and it is up to legislators, courts, and the public to determine the appropriate limits of prior restraint.

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