OLYMPIA - Attorney General Rob McKenna today joined attorneys general across the country in an amicus curiae—or friend-of-the-court—brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a qualified reporter’s privilege to refuse to disclose confidential news sources.
“The responsible use of confidential sources plays an important role in the media’s ability to gather news, because without confidentiality, many sources would not risk providing sensitive information,” McKenna said. “If reporters are unable to protect their sources, their ability to gather news is severely compromised. The First Amendment would be meaningless unless the law also protected the practical ways in which news is responsibly gathered.”
The brief specifically requests the Supreme Court to grant a petition for certiorari in In re: Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller, a case involving the special counsel investigation into whether White House officials leaked the identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame. Two reporters, Matthew Cooper from TIME magazine and Judith Miller from the New York Times, were issued subpoenas and refused to testify, invoking a reporter’s First Amendment and common law right to refuse to reveal confidential sources.
The court held them both in contempt and sentenced them to up to 18 months in jail. TIME magazine was also fined $1,000. Cooper and TIME eventually complied and the court vacated the jail time and the fine. They then refused to respond to a second subpoena and the court held them in contempt again.
The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against their appeal, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Branzburg v. Hayes, which held neither the First Amendment nor common law created a reporter’s privilege. When Branzburg was decided in 1972, only 17 states recognized reporter privilege. Since then, 49 states and the District of Columbia have either enacted a statutory shield law or their courts have ruled in favor of protection.
While Washington has no statutory shield law, its courts have ruled in favor of qualified privilege based both on the First Amendment and on common law. Washington’s qualified privilege is generally consistent with the one urged in this amicus brief.
As of May 25, at least 32 attorneys general had signed on to the amicus brief, including:
District of Columbia
Nebraska - lead
New Mexico - lead
North Carolina - lead
Oklahoma - lead
Tennessee - lead
Texas - lead
Utah - lead
For more information contact:
Janelle Guthrie, (360) 586-0725, email@example.com