Wednesday, February 16, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Link, Part III

Judge Quarles issued his opinion in the case The Baltimore Sun and two of its journalists filed against Governor Ehrlich. The opinion rejected all of the claims of the plaintiffs.

The rationale behind the relatively short opinion is neatly summarized in the following passage:
It is clear from the Nitkin and Olesker declarations, that their complaints--e.g., refusal of officials to comment on statements of legislators, refusals to comment on contracts between private firms and the state, refusals to provide information or views for columns, refusals to provide background discussions to identify issues or topics of interest to readers, and refusals to provide personal reasons or justifications for declining comment--are far beyond any citizen's reasonable expectations of access to his or her government. The enforcement of the Governor's memorandum has been implemented in a way that is reasonably calculated to ensure the Sun's access to generally available public information. The Sun seeks a privileged status beyond that of the private citizen; that desire is not a cognizable basis for injunctive relief.
The central premise of the opinion is that the plaintiffs were seeking some sort of special status. Here, Judge Quarles misses the point.

Assume that the Governor, in a fit of pique after reading one of my weblog postings, directs all executive branch employees not to speak to me. In such a case, the intent would be to chill my exercise of first amendment rights. The harm that would be suffered in such a case would be the blocking of my access to governmental officials, a right that I share with all citizens, not just journalists. Moreover, journalists, in common with all other citizens, have a reasonable expectation that the right to speak to governmental officials will not be limited due to their exercise of their First Amendment rights. In other words, Judge Quarles is correct in stating that the plaintiffs' rights are basically equal to that of ordinary citizens. He failed to recognize, however, that those rights were violated here.

Needless to say, the decision is being appealed.


Anonymous said...

Quarelsome, aren't we. Ordinary citizens walk down the street singing doo wha ditty ditty dom ditty do. Do you expect Governor Bobby to respond to every Tom,Dick and Ditty. And don't forgot the tight budget caused by the loss of tax revenue because of tax dodging LLCs. Who'll answer the phones. The freeRepublicers aren't free.

Anonymous said...

You may find this interesting, even though it is federal and not state. From State/Local AP, 9/14/04 (sorry, can't find "court papers" referenced here):

The government has conceded that the U.S. Marshals Service violated federal law when a marshal ordered reporters with The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American to erase their recordings of a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The U.S. Department of Justice also said the reporters and their employers are each entitled to $1,000 in damages and reasonable attorneys' fees, which had been sought by the media organizations.

The government's concessions were contained in court papers filed Friday in response to a lawsuit by the news organizations.
The lawsuit filed in May will continue on the outstanding issues, including the request for an injunction, Leonard Van Slyke, a lawyer for the AP, said Tuesday.

"The United States government has acknowledged that it violated the rights of the reporters and their employers by requiring the erasure of their tape recordings of Justice Scalia's speech," Van Slyke said. "We feel this is certainly an appropriate concession.

"What remains before the court are constitutional issues, and the question of whether the United States will be enjoined from taking similar actions in the future," Van Slyke said.