California Joins Jurisdictions Holding that Injunction Against Speech Already Proven at Trial to be Defamatory is Constitutional

In a rather comprehensive analysis of the constitutional doctrine of prior restraint, the California Supreme Court holds in Balboa Island Village Inn, Inc. v. Lemen, case no. S127904 (April 26, 2007), that speech already proven at trial to be defamatory may be enjoined without running afoul of the First Amendment. Reaching back more than half a millennium to Blackstone’s commentaries as well as evaluating present-day commentaries and U. S. Supreme Court cases, the Balboa Island majority offers a primer on its view of the prior restraint doctrine. The majority draws the line between speech already adjudicated to be unprotected by the First Amendment and that which has not: “In determining whether an injunction restraining defamation may be issued, therefore, it is crucial to distinguish requests for preventive relief prior to trial and post-trial remedies to prevent repetition of statements judicially determined to be defamatory.”

The majority concludes from U. S. Supreme Court decisions upholding injunctions against speech adjudicated to be obscene or in violation of gender discrimination laws that these decisions were consistent in holding that “an injunctive order prohibiting the repetition of expression that had been judicially determined to be unlawful did not constitute a prohibited prior restraint of speech.” Finally, noting that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the supreme courts of Ohio, Georgia and Minnesota had upheld injunctions against speech already proven to be defamatory, the majority holds that “following a trial at which it is determined that the plaintiff defamed the defendant, the court may issue an injunction prohibiting the defendant from repeating the statements determined to be defamatory.”

The Court nonetheless upholds the Court of Appeal’s decision striking down the injunction, but only because the majority found the injunction too broad. It remanded the case to allow the injunction to be tailored more narrowly and consistent with its opinion.

Justices Kennard and Werdegar, in two solo “concur and dissent” opinions, agree that the injunction should be struck down, but would not remand to allow a more narrowly tailored injunction to replace it. Neither would allow any prior restraint in the absence of a compelling state interest or public policy in tension with free speech rights, and neither found such a competing consideration in this case.

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