Below the Fold

The Alarming Rise in Verbal and Physical Threats to the Press

The Alarming Rise in Verbal and Physical Threats to the Press

Many presidents have had contentious relationships with the press. President John Adams’ 1798 Sedition Act made publishing anything critical of the government illegal, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to sue the press for unfavorable coverage and other leaders have tried to control the flow of information. However, the animosity towards the press fostered by President Donald Trump many believe is unprecedented.

June 13, 2018 Below the Fold, Leaks, Threats
Jeff Sessions

Crackdown on Leakers Ramps Up With NYT Journalist Targeted in Leaks Investigation

Journalists often publish information taken from leaked classified documents. Does the First Amendment protect them from prosecution for doing so? The Supreme Court has not considered that exact question, but Bartnicki v. Vopper suggests that journalists would indeed be protected as long as they were innocent recipients of the information—that is, they did not participate in or encourage the illegal activity of leaking classified information. Under the Espionage Act of 1917, the government would have to prove that the journalists published with the intent to hurt the United States, a requirement that would likely be difficult to satisfy. The leakers, of course, do risk prosecution, and journalists can be ensnared in an investigation to discover the names of the confidential sources who provided the information to them. Aggressive prosecution of leakers began under President Obama – with the most famous case, Edward Snowden, still in hiding in Russia – and continues under President Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rumored to even be considering a lie detector test to ferret out leakers.

June 13, 2018 Below the Fold, Leaks, News Gathering
Colin Kaepernick warms up on the field.

Taking A Knee Discouraged With Player and Team Fines Threatened In Upcoming NFL Season

It started with Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. To protest what he saw as oppression of people of color, he refused to stand for the National Anthem before his NFL games. His symbolic expression of dissent spread to other players and continued into the 2017 season, exploding into fiery controversy when President Donald Trump urged the NFL and its owners to fire players who refused to honor the National Anthem. The practice of taking a knee even spread to high school football players. Does the First Amendment protect the players when they refuse to stand for the National Anthem? And how does taking a knee fit into America’s history of political protest? We provide historical perspective in From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy.

June 13, 2018 Below the Fold, Speech, Symbolic Speech
Plaintiffs Unblocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

Plaintiffs Unblocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

President Trump blocked some of his critics on his Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, prompting a lawsuit arguing that such action violated their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit raised questions about the use of social media sites by public officials. Clearly, a personal website of a public figure is not subject to First Amendment restrictions, and so the site operator can block users. But a site run by the government, or run by a public official for his public business, would likely be categorized as a limited public forum protected by the First Amendment. Officials would violate the First Amendment if they discriminated against posters because of their viewpoint. But is @realDonaldTrump a personal site or an official government site? That’s a key question. He started the account in 2009, when he was a private citizen, but now uses it to share policy statements and his views on public issues. On May 23, 2018, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Trump may not legally block users on Twitter because doing so violates a right to free speech; @realDonaldTrump unblocked the plaintiffs but not others who are blocked and the Justice Department is appealing the ruling. Meanwhile, other cases are percolating through the courts as well, with one to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit involving a citizen who was blocked by a public official in Virginia from her Facebook account.

June 5, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, News Gathering
Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling in Masterpiece Cake Case

Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling in Masterpiece Cake Case

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack C. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakeland, Colorado, who refused to design and create a wedding cake for a celebration of a same-sex marriage saying that a state commission violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom when it ruled against Phillips. Phillips had claimed that the creation of the cake is artistic expression protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise of religion clause. The couple and Colorado argued that Phillips’ work on the cake was not expressive conduct according to the law and that the state had a significant interest in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. “The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the decision. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

States Rush to Pass Anti-Protestor Laws

States Rush to Pass Anti-Protestor Laws

America was born in the protests of 1765 to 1776. Large crowds assembled around liberty trees and liberty poles, hanging British officials in effigy, and thousands of people paraded through the streets of colonial towns voicing loud dissent against British taxes and other measures they considered oppressive. Today’s lawmakers seem much more squeamish about the right to assembly, which is now enshrined in the First Amendment. Reacting to the demonstrations that have taken place throughout the U.S. over the last few years, many states have moved to restrict public demonstrations by a variety of means. Some measures that are enacted into law will surely be tested in court as violations of the First Amendment.

June 1, 2018 Assembly, Below the Fold
Ballard Spahr: First Amendment Bars Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter, Court Rules

Ballard Spahr: First Amendment Bars Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter, Court Rules

Reprinted with Permission from Ballard Spahr A federal judge has ruled that the First Amendment prohibits President Donald J. Trump from blocking Twitter users because of political disagreements. Last summer, seven individual plaintiffs—Twitter users who had been blocked from the President’s account, @realDonaldTrump, after tweeting criticism about the President or his policies—together with the Knight First Amendment Institute, sued Trump[Read More…]

May 24, 2018 Access, Below the Fold
Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Reporters Persona Non Grata at White House & Other Executive Branch Agencies

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump often called out news organizations for what he said was irresponsible reporting and excluded some of their reporters from his rallies. After assuming office, the President and his staff have continued to limit the access of some news organizations, leading to a larger issue under the First Amendment. The larger question remains: Can reporters be barred from news conferences because the Trump administration objects to coverage?

May 23, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, News Gathering
Gene Policinski, Chief Operating Officer, Newseum Institute and First Amendment Center of Newseum Institute

Gene Policinski Commentary: President’s Press Credential Threat Will Be ‘Trumped’ By The First Amendment

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment expert, Gene Policinski, originally published this commentary on May 11, 2018, on the Newseum blog, and has given First Amendment Watch permission to reprint.           Donald Trump can fantasize all he wants about taking away White House press credentials from news outlets that he doesn’t like. It’s unpleasant for the journalists[Read More…]

Ballard Spahr: Cosby Case Highlights Role of Public Access to Court Records

Ballard Spahr: Cosby Case Highlights Role of Public Access to Court Records

Reprinted with Permission from Ballard Spahr The April 2018 criminal trial of iconic entertainer and “America’s Dad” Bill Cosby has ended with a guilty verdict. Rarely has the importance and power of public access to the courts—and the unique role of the media in securing access—been on such full display as during the more than 10 years of civil and[Read More…]

May 3, 2018 Access, Below the Fold