A New York appellate court lifted a restraining order on the publisher of Mary Trump’s explosive tell-all book, which apparently will describe a “nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse” inside the Trump family.
The judge, however, left the restraining order in place for Mary Trump herself for the time being, citing a broad non-disclosure provision contained in a settlement agreement in 2001 that resolved a dispute among Trump family members regarding the division of proceeds from the estate of President Trump’s father, Fred Trump Sr. Further legal proceedings on that matter will continue next week.
In lifting the restraining order against publisher Simon and Schuster, appellate judge Alan D. Scheinkman said the New York publishing powerhouse was not bound by the nondisclosure agreement because it was not an “agent” to Mary Trump. It further explored the public interest that the book likely would have.
“Whatever legitimate public interest there may have been in the family disputes of a real estate developer and his relatives may be considerably heightened by that real estate developer now being President of the United States and a current candidate for re-election,” Scheinkman wrote.
The book is already a bestseller on Amazon based on presales.
Among the topics expected in the book, titled “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” are Mary Trump’s account of the corrosive relationship between her late father, Fred Trump Jr., and President Trump.
The president’s younger brother, Robert Trump, sought the restraining order last week.
“Her attempt to sensationalize and mischaracterize our family relationship after all of these years for her own financial gain is both a travesty and injustice to the memory of my late brother, Fred, and our beloved parents,” Robert Trump said in a statement at the time.
The decision by the appellate judge was hailed as a reaffirmation of the rights of free speech and a free press by First Amendment advocates.
Maintaining the restraining order, wrote columnist Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post, “would have amounted to censorship, the very thing that the First Amendment was written to prohibit.”
Sullivan and others have noted that books critical of the president – including bestsellers by Bob Woodward, Michael Wolff, and John Bolton – have done little to weaken Trump’s hold on his political base.
“[F]our months before a presidential election, voters deserve to know everything about this president,” Sullivan wrote. “Whether that knowledge actually moves them – extremely unlikely – is not the point.”
Mary Trump is only the latest author to face legal efforts to squelch free speech rights. The U.S. Justice Department sued to prevent publication of former Trump National Security John Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened.” A court declined to issue an injunction, and sales have soared.
Perhaps more importantly, President Trump has required all campaign staffers and White House employees to sign sweeping nondisclosure agreements that bar them from criticizing Trump, his family members, or any Trump organizations for the rest of the signers’ lives.
University of Minnesota Law Professor Heidi Kitrosser recently described the case of Jessica Denson, a 2016 campaign staffer, who has filed suit in federal court seeking a declaration that her nondisclosure agreement is invalid pursuant to the First Amendment’s speech and press clauses and New York state contract law.
“At the heart of each legal claim are two key insights about free speech in a democratic system,” Kitrosser wrote in Slate. “First, the right of the people to criticize and to share information about government officials is essential to democracy and the rule of law. . . . Second, speech that scrutinizes government officials is as vulnerable as it is valuable. One need not be a hardened cynic to fear that those who wield power will use it to suppress their critics.”
One can imagine that at the conclusion of the Trump Administration’s reign – whether that be four months or four years from now – there will be other campaigns and White House officials who will want to tell their stories. Let them have their say.
Robert D. Lystad is the Executive Director of the non-profit Campaign for Free Speech, based in Washington, D.C.