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Freedom of the Press #8 – “Qualified Press Privilege”

Freedom of the Press #8
“Qualified Press Privilege”

Gary Hunt
Outpost of Freedom
February 21, 2017

In Freedom of the Press #6 – “Tilting at Windmills” – Redux, I address the jurisdictional issue that the government addressed in their Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Government’s Motion For an Order to Show Cause, of February 7, 2017.  Due to the length of the Supplement, and the length of #6, I chose to address two remaining issues in a subsequent post.  Those two issues, Prior Restraint and Qualified Press, will be addressed in that order.  From the Supplemental Memorandum:

IV. There Is No Prior Restraint Issue or Qualified Press Privilege
A. There Is No Prior Restraint Issue Presented Here

This Court has the authority to issue protective orders protecting criminal discovery and, specifically, confidential source information. The substantial government interest in protecting confidential sources is long established. See Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957). This substantial government interest is unrelated to any suppression of expression and outweighs Hunt’s First Amendment rights. No one has challenged the legitimacy of the Court’s Protective Order, and to permit a party to end run the order by passing the information to a blogger threatens to undermine criminal discovery and the interests identified in Roviaro—i.e., if we cannot protect the confidentiality of our law enforcement informants, we cannot expect their cooperation in future investigations.

We are not asking this Court to restrain Hunt’s ability generally to write about the case— or even the informants—we only want him to observe this Court’s Order, which means that he cannot publish the discovery material subject to the Court’s Order. This discovery material was not in the public domain in any form. This Court should be able to enforce its Protective Order and prohibit wide dissemination of discovery which includes confidential FBI reports. See Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20 (1984) (an order prohibiting dissemination of discovered information before trial is not the kind of classic prior restraint that requires exacting First Amendment scrutiny). Besides Seattle Times Co. there are no cases that discuss the prior restraint issue in the context of sealed and protected discovery information in the context of a criminal trial. In United States v. Noriega, 917 F.2d 1543 (1990), the issue was the balance between a defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to a fair trial and the First Amendment interests asserted by CNN. The Noriega Court held that CNN should not be able to violate a court order and litigate at the same time. Hunt has waived any First Amendment defense by defying the Court’s Orders.

Let’s address these underlined items, one at a time.  First, we will look at Roviaro.  Although I have addressed Roviaro, before, it is worth revisiting, since the government seems to rely heavily upon that decision.  Here is what they said:

This Court has the authority to issue protective orders protecting criminal discovery and, specifically, confidential source information. The substantial government interest in protecting confidential sources is long established. See Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957)

The government asserts that they have a right to protect the identity of informants with a protective order.  They have made this assertion, before, though they appear to have not yet read the decision nor understand the ramifications.

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