A brief flashback to ASNE's summer of advocacy

Although we just told you about an important matter involving the Department of Justice's attempt to force DreamHost to turn over a large quantity of information related to the website, that was by no means all that we did this summer when it came to free speech and freedom of information. In fact, it was quite a busy summer for ASNE – quite often joined by our friends at APME – on the advocacy front.  

Here's a very short recap of some of the briefs and letters we joined:

  • We joined 24 other organizations on an amicus brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Carbone v. CNN. This is an appeal from a lower court decision that the Georgia Anti-SLAPP statute can't be applied in a federal court case. It is the second-such decision from a federal district court in recent months, running counter to three prior decisions by federal Courts of Appeal, which allow state Anti-SLAPP statutes to be used by defendants in federal courts. Given the current lack of a federal Anti-SLAPP statute and the recent passage of several very good state laws, we want to ensure the broadest utilization of these state laws as a means of dismissing and deterring frivolous lawsuits. 
  • We supported a student publication at the University of California San Diego while also arguing in favor of a broad definition of “public forum” that will help free speech generally. Officials at the university cut off funding for all student media organizations because of their displeasure with just one: The Koala, a publication which intentionally pushes the bounds of good taste on a regular basis. Unfortunately, a federal district court upheld this tactic as consistent with the First Amendment; our brief, filed by the Student Press Law Center in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, argues that this poses a grave danger to free speech generally, given that government officials could create “now-you-see-it, now-you-don't zones in which the opportunity to speak will magically disappear when a disfavored speaker or publisher shows up on the scene and then magically reappear for use by a speaker who shares the college's views.” 
  • PETA v. Stein is a challenge to North Carolina's “ag-gag” law (North Carolina Gen. Stat. 99A-2). This law creates a civil action for any employer against any employee who enters a private area of the workplace for any reason other than a bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment or doing business if that employee then captures or removes information or records images or sound. Compounding this broad language, which threatens whistleblowers, is the ability to hold jointly liable “[a]ny person who intentionally directs, assists, compensates, or induces another person to violate it” — putting journalists in danger of liability, as well. The case is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after a district court dismissed the lawsuit filed by several animal rights organizations because the lower court held they lacked standing to preemptively challenge the law; our brief supports those plaintiffs in their appeal.
  • Carpenter v. United States will be heard by the United States Supreme Court this fall. The court will address the question of whether the government has the ability to obtain long-term tracking information from phone service providers. Our brief explains the harm that would ensue from long-term tracking of phone users, especially the impact on journalism, as sources would be chilled and leak investigations increase (implicating journalists who are also likely to be subpoenaed or, worse, investigated). 
  • We joined group of organizations across the political spectrum in support of the Private Prison Information Sharing Act. This is the latest in a years-long effort to make information held by private prisons subject to the federal FOIA. The importance of this effort is only growing as Federal Bureau of Prisons, United States Marshalls Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (among others) increasingly contract out their detention services to companies who then claim that records in their possession are not subject to public access (even though the same records would be publicly accessible if held by the federal agencies themselves). 
  • We stood up for student media in supporting the Rhode Island “New Voices” law via this letter. The effort eventually proved successful as the law passed, making Rhode Island the 13th state to have this law, which protects college and high-school journalists' rights by putting them on equal footing with all other media, court cases like Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier notwithstanding. 
  • Finally, we signed a letter in support of the “CBO Show Your Work Act”. This is another ongoing effort on our part, this time to make the Congressional Budget Office explain how it “scores” bills – a controversial issue of late as a bad score (the term used to quantify the financial impact that the bill will have relative to its likely benefit) can often doom even the most necessary legislation. 
Please feel free to contact ASNE Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at 703-812-0462 or if you want more information about any of these issues or our First Amendment and FOI issues in general.