Supreme Court Should Take Reporters’ Contempt Cases

"The right of a free press is at the core of our democracy. Prosecutors just can’t be allowed to haul reporters willy-nilly before a grand jury to extract confidential information."

May 18, 2005
Contact: Reid Cox or Marshall Manson

CFIF Urges Supreme Court to Take Reporters’ Contempt Cases

Alexandria, VA — The Center for Individual Freedom today filed an amicus curiae brief asking the Supreme Court to grant review of a lower court’s decision to hold New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time Magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper in contempt for refusing to reveal their confidential sources to a federal grand jury.

“It is long past time for this Court … to reconsider and clarify whether and when the First Amendment protects newsgatherers from compelled disclosure of their confidential news sources,” the brief says.

“The right of a free press is at the core of our democracy. Prosecutors just can’t be allowed to haul reporters willy-nilly before a grand jury to extract confidential information,” said Reid Cox, the Center’s General Counsel. “Though we often say the public has a right to know, the press is the conduit for the public’s knowledge. If reporters have to fear jail every time they get a confidential tip, we will all know less.”

The Center’s argument that the Court should take the cases rests on two major points. First, lower courts are hopelessly divided on the question of a privilege for reporters protecting their confidential sources. Second, the Center’s brief applies the Court’s logic from a death penalty decision announced earlier this term. Specifically, the Court said that a “consensus” of states had emerged on the issue in question. The Center’s brief points out that 49 states and the District of Columbia now recognize and protect some form of reporter’s privilege. Under the Court’s own logic, the brief argues, the Court should recognize that the First Amendment protects confidential news sources.

The Center also objects to the lower court’s reliance on secret evidence to support its decision. “Perhaps the most surprising and objectionable part of the decision below was the court’s willingness to uphold the contempt citations against  [the reporters] based upon evidence neither they nor their counsel were allowed to examine or afforded the opportunity to rebut,” the brief says.

The Center for Individual Freedom is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to defending individual freedoms and rights. The Center has long been a strong defender of the First Amendment. Previously, it filed a similar brief in the case of Vanessa Leggett, an investigative journalist who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to reveal her confidential sources.

[Posted Month, Day, 2005
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