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United States v. Providence Journal Co., 485 U.S. 693 (1988)

United States v. Providence Journal Co.

No. 87-65

Argued January 20, 1988

Decided May 2, 1988

485 U.S. 693


Respondents, a newspaper and its executive editor, violated a temporary restraining order issued by the District Court in a civil suit brought to enjoin dissemination of surveillance logs and memoranda concerning the plaintiff's deceased father. Although the court subsequently vacated the order, it nevertheless appointed a private attorney to prosecute respondents for criminal contempt of the order, declining to ask the United States Attorney to pursue the matter because of his representation of the federal defendants in the underlying civil action. The court ultimately found respondents in criminal contempt, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the order was "transparently invalid" under the First Amendment. Although the Solicitor General denied the special prosecutor authority to represent the United States in this Court in seeking reinstatement of the contempt judgment, the prosecutor nevertheless filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was granted, and briefed and argued the case.

Held: Since the special prosecutor lacks authority to represent the United States before this Court, the writ of certiorari is dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Pp. 485 U. S. 699-708.

(a) Title 28 U.S.C. § 518(a) and regulations issued by the Attorney General empower the Solicitor General or his designee to conduct and argue suits in this Court "in which the United States is interested." Pp. 485 U. S. 699-708.

(b) This case is one "in which the United States is interested," within the plain meaning of § 518(a). The action was initiated, and continues to be litigated here, in order to further the United States' unique sovereign interest in vindicating the authority of its Judiciary. The rationale underlying Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U. S. 787 -- which affirmed the inherent authority of federal courts to appoint private attorneys to prosecute disobedience of court orders in order to assure the Judiciary an independent means of vindicating its authority -- does not necessitate the special prosecutor's appearance before this Court. Nor does Young create an exception to 28 U.S.C. §§ 516 and 547, and therefore to the similar provisions of § 518(a). Unlike § 518(a), both § 516 and § 547 give the Attorney General exclusive control

Page 485 U. S. 694

over litigation involving the United States "except as otherwise [provided or authorized] by law." Young simply acknowledges an excepted provision or authorization within the meaning of the statutory provisos. Pp. 485 U. S. 700-705.

(c) If a judicially initiated contempt citation were not a case "in which the United States is interested," the policies underlying § 518(a) -- that the United States speak with one voice before this Court, and that that voice reflect the common interest of the Government and the people in the development of the law, rather than a variety of parochial, inconsistent interests shaped by the immediate demands of the case sub judice -- could be undermined by, and anomalous consequences could result from, a deluge of unauthorized certiorari petitions filed by United States Attorneys or by special prosecutors at the behest of district judges. Pp. 485 U. S. 706-707.

820 F.2d 1342 and 1354, certiorari dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 485 U. S. 708. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post, p. 485 U. S. 708. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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