Vanessa Leggett and the forces that have imprisoned her are locked in a battle of wills; hers appears guided by conscience and principle. Vanessa Leggett Redux

We do not know what is meant by pundits who proclaim the "death of irony," post 9-ll. To us, the height of irony is an American journalist in an American jail, put there in July by a Justice Department which now seeks expanded powers to battle terrorism, while pledging not to trample civil liberties.

Vanessa Leggett can give no witness to those good intentions. Every day she stays in jail bears silent testimony that skepticism, like liberty, should be strengthened, not surrendered. Vanessa Leggett is in jail because she will not surrender to the government information provided to her in confidence about a notorious Houston, Texas, murder case. She obtained the information while researching a book.

We have written about the case to the extent that we are able (see; "Summer Mystery:Why Jail Vanessa Leggett?")

The facts, while publicly scarce, are disturbing. Too many of them scream railroad job; too few point to an objective pursuit of justice.

The Center for Individual Freedom has contributed to Vanessa Leggett’s defense fund. We did so because we believe she’s an honest and honorable journalist, punitively jailed under law that is murky, poorly understood and inconsistently applied.

We believe that the U.S Supreme Court should revisit the issue of journalistic privilege and provide the clarity that is currently absent. We believed that before the horrific events of 9-11, and we believe it even more strongly now. This nation at war has historically produced significant tension between the acute needs of government for secrecy and the right of a free press to inform the public. That will only intensify in an environment where confidential sources are often the only sources. Whatever the legal strictures are to be, the Supreme Court needs to define them with an exceptionally bright line.

The Vanessa Leggett case provides the best opportunity for timely Supreme Court review. Following the rejection of Leggett’s appeal by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, has petitioned for a rehearing by the full court, fulfilling all procedural requirements, but likely to be denied.

To read the brief as filed, click here. It contains a revelation that adds substantively to the disturbing details of the case. The record of Vanessa Leggett’s contempt of court hearing before federal district Judge Melinda Harmon was closed, the record sealed. However, in DeGeurin’s brief, the judge is quoted as saying, "[b]eing unfamiliar with this process, having never done this before and needing to rely upon the experience of all the attorneys here…"

Thus acknowledging her ignorance, the judge then proceeded, refusing repeated requests by DeGeurin for a delay that would have allowed all participants, including the judge, to prepare. As citizens, we are frequently told that ignorance of the law, as complicated as it has become, is no excuse for violating it. That is equally true for judges in applying the law.

Vanessa Leggett and the forces that have imprisoned her are locked in a battle of wills; hers appears guided by conscience and principle. No justice is served by her continued incarceration. Neither is the necessary belief that the Justice Department will do the right thing as tensions of crisis mount.

John Ashcroft came to office as Attorney General with a reputation for integrity and honor, despite controversies over his positions on a variety of issues. In refusing to mount legal challenges to which he was entitled over an election for the U.S. Senate that raised significant questions, he stood for principle. He should do that again, by affecting the release of Vanessa Leggett, pending the exhaustion of her appeals. That is not too much to ask; it is not unreasonable to expect.

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