prior restraint


Definition of prior restraint 

: governmental prohibition imposed on expression before the expression actually takes place

Examples of prior restraint in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Faculty members, student groups and a campus minister sued the regents in federal court, alleging prior restraint under the First Amendment. Anne Ryman, azcentral, "Maricopa colleges get complaints over showing 'The Last Temptation of Christ' in class," 7 June 2018 In the years since, the Internet has made it all but impossible for democratic governments to directly censor the press; prior restraint is now hard to pull off, even for an autocrat. Bruce D. Brown, Time, "America Is No Longer the Standard Bearer for a Free Press," 5 Feb. 2018 Absent a finding of libel, forcing a retraction would constitute prior restraint. Brian Chasnoff, San Antonio Express-News, "Why you can’t penalize all the ‘liars’," 2 May 2018 There is no legal rationale for such prior restraint. Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, "What Went Wrong in the Stormy Daniels Case," 17 Mar. 2018 On June 30, the United States Supreme Court voted 6-to-3 to lift the injunction against both papers, ruling that the government failed to justify prior restraint on publication. Sam Roberts, New York Times, "Who’s Who in ‘The Post’: A Guide to the Players in a Pivotal Era," 25 Dec. 2017 Michael Giudicessi, an attorney representing the Register and Kauffman, argued in a filing Thursday that such a stay was a prior restraint on press freedom barred by the Iowa and U.S. constitutions. Ryan J. Foley,, "Iowa justice blocks Des Moines Register from reporting court records," 16 Dec. 2017 Yet to amici’s knowledge, outside the context of intellectual property disputes — and in decades past, the regulation of obscenity — no appellate court has ever affirmed a prior restraint of a motion picture. Eriq Gardner, Billboard, "Will Recent Court Rulings Endanger the Future of Biopics and Documentaries?," 12 Oct. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prior restraint.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of prior restraint

1833, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about prior restraint

Share prior restraint

Dictionary Entries near prior restraint




prior restraint

prior to



Statistics for prior restraint

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for prior restraint

The first known use of prior restraint was in 1833

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for prior restraint

prior restraint


Legal Definition of prior restraint 

: governmental prohibition on expression (esp. by publication) before the expression actually takes place — see also Near v. Minnesota and New York Times Co. v. United States — compare censorship, freedom of speech

Note: In New York Times Co. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court restated its position that “any system of prior restraints” bears “a heavy presumption against constitutional validity” and that the government “carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint.”

More from Merriam-Webster on prior restraint

See words that rhyme with prior restraint

Comments on prior restraint

What made you want to look up prior restraint? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a state of commotion or excitement

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!