One of ASNE's most important legislative priorities in the past decade has been to see passage of a federal shield law. We have come relatively close in the past.
The House passed such a bill on two different occasions, and the Senate moved legislation through the Senate Judiciary Committee only to see the bill stall before a Senate floor vote, despite President Obama's support.
We might be moving close once again because the Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated it will mark up its version of the legislation this month.
Recent events, primarily the seizure of telephone records from the Associated Press, highlight the need for this protection and have given this effort new life. For instance, a strong argument can be made that the Department of Justice, whose voluntary guidelines regarding issuance of subpoenas to the media have long been relied on as an argument against the need for a federal shield law, violated its own guidelines by going after a wide swath of phone records long after its investigation started.
The DOJ might not have broken any laws, but that's primarily because no law exists to clearly prevent this type of behavior. Without the federal shield law, it is likely that these types of subpoenas will continue.
Once again, we turn to you for your assistance in achieving our goal.
An updated version of the "Free Flow of Information Act" (S 987) is likely to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee later this month. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was joined by a bipartisan group of senators at a press conference on July 17 to kickstart the bill's movement. S 987 was officially placed on the Judiciary Committee's calendar for its upcoming July 25 business meeting. This means that it could come up for a vote as early as Thursday, but we understand a vote on August 1 is more likely.
As Kevin M. Goldberg, ASNE legal counsel, works with the representatives of the dozens of other media organizations and companies that also support the Free Flow of Information Act with Senate staff, we are hoping that you can reach out to your senators, especially if one of those senators is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ask them to:
(1) support S 987
(2) better yet, support the bill and ask Senate leadership to bring it to the floor as soon as possible after the expected Senate Judiciary Committee passage
(3) become a co-sponsor of S 987, which currently has 17 co-sponsors, while the slightly different House bill, HR 1962, has 46 co-sponsors
We know these senators listen to your voices. Your editorials are important. Your personal contacts, if you are comfortable with discussing this with your senator, carry even more weight.
We have several background materials available should you need assistance, including:
Two recent opinion pieces which might offer some guidance in crafting your arguments for the law:
We understand there are likely to be some further amendments to S 987 during the markup process. For instance, we hear that some of the proposed changes to the DOJ's policies and practices governing the use of law enforcement tools to obtain information or records from or concerning members of the news media, which we summarized in a recent alert, might be incorporated into S 987. Given that we are pleased with DOJ report, we would welcome the codification of those changes.
Contact ASNE Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at 703-812-0462 or email@example.com for more information.