Tag: First Amendment

Obama Administration attempts to defend its war on investigative journalism

| May 18, 2012 | 7 Replies
Obama Administration attempts to defend its war on investigative journalism

The Obama Department of Justice continued its attack on news reporters trying to protect their confidential sources with regard to stories based on government leaks. Before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is a case concerning NYT reporter James Risen, who has refused to respond to a federal subpoena demanding that he provide the source of information on which he based a story about a botched CIA plot against the Iranian government. Oral arguments occurred this morning. Fortunately, several of the judges were not receptive to the arguments of the Obama Administration that there is no such thing as a “reporters’ privilege.”

Why is this issue critically important? James Risen explains in this Huffpo article by Michael Caldeone and Dan Froomkin:

“They’ve said in that there is no reporter’s privilege,” Risen said. “I think they want the court to rule on a fundamental constitutional issue of whether or not there is a reporter’s privilege in a criminal case, which makes this case kind of have a broader import than it might otherwise have.”

“That’s why I think it’s become a pretty important case,” he continued. “It’s a fairly basic constitutional issue for the press, whether or not there is a reporter’s privilege. It’s something a lot of people outside the press don’t really understand, don’t really care about. I think the basic issue is whether you can have a democracy without aggressive investigative reporting and I don’t believe you can. So that’s why I’m fighting it.”

The hardline stand against reporter’s privilege — the DOJ briefs always put the term in quotation marks — is a hallmark of the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown over leaks. So is trying to throw the book at the alleged leakers.

Share

Read More

The right of citizens to record public events

| March 2, 2012 | Reply
The right of citizens to record public events

Many people have been arrested for recording public arrests, and many others have had their cameras confiscated, and that’s here in American where we have the First Amendment. At Gigaom, Matthew Ingram takes a look at this problem and concludes that the freedom of the press applies to everyone, even bloggers:

University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer, who has written a research paper about the right of citizens to record public events under the First Amendment, told Reason magazine that rulings by three separate federal appeals courts have upheld that right. And one recent appeals court decision specifically referred to the fact that the ability to take photos, video and audio recordings with mobile devices has effectively made everyone a journalist — in practice, if not in name — and therefore deserving of protection.

Ingram’s article cites to another well-written article, this one by Rodney Balko, titled, “The War on Cameras.” Balko’s article discusses the right to privacy of police. Here’s an excerpt:

University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer, author of a 2010 paper in the Pennsylvania Law Review about the right to record, says such legal vagueness is a problem. Citing decisions by three federal appeals courts, Kreimer says the First Amendment includes the right to record public events. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow for unbridled discretion” by police, he says, “and it’s particularly concerned with clear rules when free speech rights are at stake. Even if there is a privacy interest here, people have to know when they’re going to be subject to prosecution.”

Here’s the article by Seth Kreimer; it’s titled: “Pervasive Image Capture and the First Amendment: Memory, Discourse, and the Right to Record.”

Share

Read More

The Onion: The U.S. Supreme Court is pissed

| May 7, 2010 | Reply
The Onion: The U.S. Supreme Court is pissed

As always, The Onion is on top of important breaking stories. This one concerns the colorful language of a newly released opinion of the United States Supreme Court.

Share

Read More

Can you tolerate NAMBLA?

| January 25, 2010 | 12 Replies
Can you tolerate NAMBLA?

image courtesty of the Federal Art Project, via Wikimedia Commons

You think you’re open-minded? What if the North American Man-Boy Love Association wanted to distribute a newsletter in your town? What if they wanted to hold a local parade celebrating pederasty?

I am currently studying social psychology in graduate school, and I’m particularly interested in political psychology. One of my present research interests is political tolerance. “Political tolerance” refers to individuals’ willingness to extend equal civil liberties to unpopular groups.

When political scientists and psychologists measure political tolerance, they often probe individuals for their ability to withstand the most offensive, outlandish groups and speech possible. For example, a liberal-minded person may be asked whether they would be willing to allow a rally for the Klu Klux Klan or some extremist, militaristic group. Paradoxically, a truly tolerant person must be willing to allow racially intolerant speech.

Political tolerance plays a cornerstone role in functioning democracies (at least, we think so). If voters can strip away the civil liberties of disliked political groups, those liberties lay on precarious ground indeed. If we cannot tolerate the words of anarchists or members of the Westboro Baptist Church, then we do not really believe in the boundlessness of speech at all.

Academics say as much. In reality, voters are not so tolerant.

Share

Read More

U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

| September 5, 2009 | 5 Replies
U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

On September 4, 2009, Bill Moyers hosted Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of The Campaign Legal Center (and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission), and Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment attorney. You can view the entire discussion here. The topic is whether longstanding federal election laws should be held unconstitutional so that corporations can freely spend unlimited amounts of money (e.g., in the form of movies, books, and other private initiatives) in order to directly affect the outcome of federal political campaigns. The case is Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission.

Many legal commentators are suggesting the Supreme Court has already suggested that it leaning in favor of the corporations on this issue. And we can almost guarantee how Chief Justice John Roberts is going to vote on this issue (and see here). I highly recommend viewing this discussion. I thought that Abrams looked very much like a man who was being paid big money to take position he knew to be reprehensible. On the other hand, Trevor Potter is taking a position that looks out for people like you and me. I realize that powerful corporate interests have already made puppets out of Congress, the SEC, the FDA and many other federal agencies (see these recent examples regarding tobacco legislation and the rejection of the bankruptcy cram-down option).

With this as the context, I believe that Citizens United boils down to a simple question: Should our government be at least somewhat run by ordinary people or should corporate money flow even more freely at election time (much more than it flows already), allowing our federal government to be taken over entirely by powerful corporations driven almost entirely by the profit motive?

Here are a few excerpts from Moyers’ discussion with Potter and Abrams:

TREVOR POTTER: This is a case about corporate money. If this case is won by the corporation, we will be in the ironic situation where corporations will have no limits on what they can spend in elections and unions still will. So, it’s important to remember we’re talking about corporations. Corporations exist solely to make money. Amassing economic power. They want, if they could get it out of government, monopolies. They want the ability to defeat their competitors. And if they can use government to do that, they will. Individuals have a whole range of interests. Individuals go to church, they care about religious and social issues, they care about the future of the country. They’re voters.

So, they have a range of issues at stake that corporations don’t have. Corporations just want to make money. So, if you let the corporation with a privileged economic legal position loose in the political sphere, when we’re deciding who to elect, I think you are giving them an enormous advantage over individuals and not a healthy one for our democracy. . . . [C]orporations have a different status. And they ought to be focused on the economic marketplace and not the political marketplace.

FLOYD ABRAMS: You’re opening the faucet, so to speak, so that more speech can occur. I don’t think it’s a can of worms to say that corporations, and it is unions as well, ought to be able to participate in the give and take of the democratic processes in the country. From my perspective, at least, the notion of saying that corporations and unions should be out of the picture either because they’re too powerful, or because of the way their money has been created, is so inconsistent with the sort of First Amendment approach that we take in everything else, where we say over and over again, we don’t care who the speaker is, we don’t care where the speaker’s coming from. And speech, we think, is, as a generality, a good thing . . .

BILL MOYERS: But we’re not talking about free press issues here. We’re talking about the power of an organized economic interest to spend vast sums of money that individuals can’t spend . . . Would you disagree with the claim that big business dominates the political discussion today? Whether it’s the drug industry or the health insurance industry? Big business is the dominant force in Washington. I mean, I see that as a journalist . . . we’re not talking about free press issues here. We’re talking about the power of an organized economic interest to spend vast sums of money that individuals can’t spend.

It is important to deny powerful profit-seeking organizations the right to skew federal election results even more than they do currently. If the Supreme Court goes the wrong way on this issue, it would even make a mockery out of clean-money initiatives, such as this plan being promoted by Common Cause and this plan by Public Citizen.

Share

Read More

Bill O’Reilly tries to understand the First Amendment

| December 17, 2008 | 3 Replies
Bill O’Reilly tries to understand the First Amendment

Bill O’Reilly tries to understand the First Amendment in the context of the Washington State Governor’s attempt to accommodate other religious viewpoints along with a Christian nativity display.  It’s a lively discussion, and somewhat entertaining during which O’Reilly never claims to understand that it’s viewpoint discrimination that is relevant.  I suspect that O’Reilly actually does […]

Share

Read More