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The Supreme Court halted indefinitely Monday the merger of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, two of the largest and most competitive daily newspapers in America.

The court agreed to hear a case challenging the merger of the newspapers, which have been locked in a debilitating struggle for dominance in the Motor City.By granting review in the case, the court puts the merger on hold indefinitely. Because of the court's schedule, the case cannot be heard until the fall with a decision not likely before the end of the year or early next year.

Knight-Ridder Inc., which owns the Free Press, said the paper has been losing $50,000 a day and said it would close the newspaper if the merger is not approved, calling it unrealistic to believe it could be sold.

"This is another disappointing delay in our three-year long effort to save the Detroit Free press," said Knight-Ridder President James Batten. "In the days ahead we will be planning our next steps. We continue to believe strongly in the fairness and justice of our case."

David Lawrence, publisher of the Free Press, said, "This process has been an extraordinary lesson in patience."

Detroit News Publisher Robert Giles could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Obviously, we're elated that the First Amendment is alive and well," said Ed Wendover, publisher of the Community Crier in suburban Plymouth and a leader in the group challenging the merger.

Lewis Mleczko, president of the Newspaper Guild local representing employees at both papers, said he was "heartened that enough justices want to take a long look at (the merger) before giving it their stamp of approval."

At issue is whether the two papers should merge under a joint operating agreement under the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, a law that allows failing newspapers to combine non-editorial operations of the business to cut costs.

The goal of the act was to preserve separate editorial voices in a time of dying newspapers.


(Additional Story)

Other court rulings at a glance

Here, at a glance, are highlights of actions taken by the Supreme Court on Monday.


The justices, in a 6-3 ruling, put the burden on employers to disprove sexual stereotyping when they are accused of discriminating against women.

The justices ordered further lower court hearings in a suit against the accounting firm Price Waterhouse by Ann Hopkins, who said she was denied a partnership because of "macho" attitudes that her behavior was not sufficiently ladylike.


The court ruled 5-4 that lawyers may not be forced by federal law to represent poor people in non-criminal federal cases.

The justices found in favor of John A. Mallard, an attorney from rural Fairfield, Iowa, who specializes in business cases. He had refused a federal judge's order to represent prison inmates in a civil rights suit because he said he felt unqualified for the assignment.


The justices appeared to clear the way for a federal trial against nine current and former Synanon Foundation figures accused of illegally conspiring to regain the group's tax-exempt status.

The justices sent the case back to a federal appeals court for restudy in light of their March 28 ruling that criminal defendants may not immediately appeal a judge's refusal to dismiss an indictment for alleged grand jury abuses by prosecutors.


The court agreed to hear a Bush administration appeal aimed at allowing the government to collect potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from multinational corporations.

In a case involving Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., the court said it will review a ruling that allows multinationals to use foreign tax laws to reduce their U.S. taxes. The case stems from operations of Goodyear's British subsidiary in the early 1970s.


The court refused to hear an appeal by Hawaii officials seeking to recover from asbestos manufacturers the cost of removing the product from public schools in the state.

The court, without comment, let stand rulings from Pennsylvania that included Hawaii in a so-called class-action settlement of claims against the asbestos companies.