The Nation v. Haig

The Nation v. Haig was a case which defended the right of Americans to receive Cuban publications.

In May 1981, the Reagan administration instituted an embargo on publications of Cuban origin arriving in this country. Subscribers to Granma or any other Cuban periodical could no longer receive even a single copy of such a publication without first securing an import license. All Cuban periodicals arriving in Boston, the major port of entry, were seized and stored in a local warehouse. Authority for such action was claimed under the Trading with the Enemy Act, which permits the President to prohibit economic transactions between the United States and a disfavored country in time of war or national emergency. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S Treasury Department, the department charged with the Act’s enforcement, determined that under the Act it could prohibit all importation, paid or unpaid, of even one copy of such publications.

In the fall of 1981, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorneys filed a federal complaint in Boston challenging the embargo. Among the over one hundred plaintiffs who joined the suit were The Nation, The Guardian, The Progressive, and the Boston Committee to End the Blockade, as well as individual doctors, lawyers, scholars, journalists, theologians, and others harmed by the seizure.

The suit charged that the embargo’s interference with First Amendment rights was not justified by the minimal economic effect such an action would have on Cuba. One of the plaintiffs, a physician, asserted that “the free flow of medical information is well accepted as important in the fight against disease.” He added that the “embargo prevents me from adequately engaging in this fight to which I am dedicated.” Another plaintiff, a Cuban-born sociologist, explained that applying for a license would “subject me to government investigation or even prosecution, and to harassment from violent Cuban exile groups from whom I have previously received phoned death threats.” The complaint also alleged that the embargo was beyond the authority delegated by Congress to the executive branch of government by the Trading with the Enemy Act.

On January 28, 1982, the date upon which the government was to file its answer, the Treasury Department ordered the release of the stored literature and issued an instruction dropping the license requirement for single copies of Cuban publications.