Get PJ Media on your Apple

Unexamined Premises

James Risen, the First Amendment, Congress, and the Emperor Hussein

July 31st, 2013 - 6:07 pm
Et tu, Brutus?

I Am the Change

Should New York Times reporter James Risen go to jail? That’s a real possibility, now that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that he must testify against a probable source in the trial of a former CIA agent accused of leaking classified documents to the media:

In a 118-page set of opinions, two members of a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the people suspected of leaking to them. A district court judge who had ruled in Mr. Risen’s case had said that it did.

“Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony,” wrote Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr., who was joined by Judge Albert Diaz in Friday’s ruling.

Mr. Risen has vowed to go to prison rather than testify about his sources and to carry any appeal as far as the Supreme Court.

This is not good news for Risen, nor is it good news to the Washington press corps, as slavishly sycophantic a group of “journalists” as has ever gathered in the nation’s capital to drink wine and break bread with their friends on the other side of the aisle, politicians.The case has its roots in the Bush administration (and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s decision not to prosecute), so it’s likely the MSM had pretty much forgotten all about its jeopardy, especially with the ascendancy of Barack Hussein Obama. But no. The Washington Post explains:

Risen is a New York Times reporter, but his involvement in the case relates to his 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” Chapter nine of the book, titled “A Rogue Operation,” describes a “failed attempt by the CIA to have a former Russian scientist provide flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran.” As noted in yesterday’s court ruling, the book doesn’t identify Risen’s sources for the classified information this chapter.

In 2010, former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling was indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for communicating national defense information to Risen for publication in “State of War,” among other charges. Pursuant to the case, the government sought to extract testimony from Risen with a May 2011 trial subpoena. It wanted Risen to “directly identify Sterling” as the source for his secret information.

Risen fought the subpoena, alleging that the First Amendment or federal common law protected him from the government’s quest for courtroom evidence. A federal district court then delivered a resounding success for Risen, citing “a qualified First Amendment reporter’s privilege that may be invoked when a subpoena either seeks information about confidential sources or is issued to harass or intimidate the journalist.” It also wrote the following, which should delight the ink-stained set: “A criminal trial is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook.”

That ruling, however, didn’t pass muster with the 4th Circuit appeals court…

Indeed it did not. Here’s the heart of the matter, as analyzed over at Justia.com:

According to the appeals court, the Supreme Court’s Branzburg ruling categorically rejected a First Amendment privilege for reporters to invoke in order to shield their sources in criminal cases. Although subsequent cases in the Fourth Circuit and elsewhere had found a qualified reporter-source privilege in civil cases, the majority noted that Branzburg, like Sterling, was a criminal case, and that the lower courts are not at liberty to overrule the Supreme Court.

In any discussion of press freedom, it’s important to keep in mind an important distinction. As the Pentagon Papers case made clear, the government is forbidden to exercise prior restraint of publication. But once the material is disseminated, reporters are theoretically as vulnerable to legal action as anybody else. The confidentiality of the reporter-source relationship is a journalistic convention, not a legal requirement; hence the existence in many states of “shield” laws that specifically protect reporters going about their constitutionally protected business.

The First Amendment specifically addresses three separate issues: freedom of religion; freedom of personal speech (spoken) and of the press (written); and free assembly. To say that it has been turned on its head by administrations both Democrat and Republican is a commonplace. Atheism has effectively been established as the new state religion; “hate speech” can land you in jail; and “free speech” zones beyond which speech is restricted or prohibited are now routine in our political life, so as not to discomfit our emperors and robed masters as they swan about. If Americans actually cared about their Constitution, there’d be a revolution.

But this is how freedom dies, one “reasonable” restriction at a time, until the whole enterprise collapses under its own artificial weight. There’s a bracing quality to the muscular prose of the Constitution, free as it is of petty legalisms and multiple subordinate clauses. A whole industry, nourished by law schools across the country, has grown up to “interpret” a document that was meant to be read and understood by every citizen, not just lawyers.

The real issue here, though, is not whether reporters are also citizens and thus subject to penalties should they choose to withhold information in criminal cases; the real issue is the Obama administration’s decision to pull Risen into its net, as part of its ongoing war on leaks, leakers, and the fences who market their stolen property, aka reporters.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I would have no issue with the would-be emperor wearing tar and feathers.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
"'Very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers,'” the president said."

How politically ignorant do you have to be to think there are very few lawyers in Congress? Currently there are 173; almost 1 out of 3 people in Congress are lawyers, and if you guessed the proportion was higher than that, over 40% say, you would be right for a number of recent Congresses. Who would even be surprised at that? Only someone who thinks there are 57 states.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
The fundamental failure of the Republican political leadership is they think their job is to work with and compromise with the Democrats, even when the latter is violating wholesale the Constitution and rights of the people. Unless the Republican party is rapidly transformed to be the polar opposite of the Dems, we are doomed to Tyranny. The Tea Party and others like Cruz and Rand have it right. We must first fight to get rid of the "Neville Chamberlains" in the Republican party before we can fight the Dems and their program to change us into a National Socialist State complete with our own Furher. Every day we see Obama issue more egregious and unlawful Presidential orders and take on more authorities as if he were a sovereign king answerable to no-one. The light of Liberty is rapidly being extinguished. Even now there will be incredible pain and suffering to restore good limited government answerable to the people. To wait will mean violence and bloodshed to restore Liberty. To do nothing is to be an accomplice to the enslavement of ourselves, our families, and our future.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (38)
All Comments   (38)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Um, compromising national security is not protected under the First Amendment. The difference between this guy and Snowden? Snowden revealed the U.S. spying on it's own citizens. Risen conspired to reveal how we protected ourselves from foreign enemies.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
when your most recent nominees are Romney, McCain, Bush, Dole, and elder Bush, and when your alleged band of front-runners for 2016 includes Christie, Rubio, and Santorum, you are a lot of things but conservative, and liberty loving conservative, are not among them.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
It would be nice to be able to fight them separately, but you can not: they are in symbiosis. And will resist any attempt at real return to the constitution as a single organism.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
"But this is how freedom dies, one “reasonable” restriction at a time,"


Yes, that's one way.

The other way is the "reasonable" REMOVAL of one restriction at a time.

Restrictions on the government, that is.

And of course, to object is always UNreasonable.

It's for our SAFETY, don't you know?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Blah blah blah. How can we take an article seriously that refers to the POTUS as "emperor Hussein"? Get over it, BHO is the President.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
And C. Julius Caesar Octavianus (a/k/a Augustus) was just this guy with lawfully-assumed proconsular and tribunician authorities; shucks, he wasn't even consul most of the time.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bushitler? Is that you?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Apparently you didn't read the article, because all you could focus on was the sarcastic reference to the President as "Emperor Hussein."

IOW: go away you lazy, semi-literate twit.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Constitution, all of it, has always been an impediment to the left and often due nothing but lip service from Republicans, even some calling themselves conservative. The Bushes tried to work around it and the last shrub outright violated it, with the collusion of Congress, in several area, stepping on civil rights and ignoring immigration law. But never has it been so disdained, impeded, circumvented and ignored as it has been under the current fraud Obamanation regime! When you add the leftist and the lip service RINOs, those true to the Republic, if they wish to restore the Constitutional Republic, have but one choice, the one our forefathers and founders advised us would be necessary and the one they took against an oppressive king!
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our Founders framed a government that, in a strong sense, "pitted" three separate branches of government agianst each other..... to guard against any one of them coming into an unhealthy ascendency and ruling the rest of them. Further, as a final check, they established WE THE PEOPLE clearly as the sovereign, to stand in check over it all. What has happened is that those threee branches, after years of non-intervention by WE THE PEOPLE, have gone into collusion and are no longer dedicated to the will of their sovereign, but have usurped sovereign power. The one that was originally intended to be merely administrator, effecitng the expressed will of the fiirst, has become the head.... the first department having abdicated their charge from WE THE PEOPLE. The third department have fallen in lockstep with the second, becoming more the executive than the judge. It will take a major reform to overturn this status quo, and I see rumblings of that but not yet sufficiently strong to effect a return to the original form. The elite rulers have been threatened with the light being turned on, what with MEN liks Manning, Risen, Snowden, Hastings. They stand in the gap for us. One is dead under VERY suspicious circumstances, another is being sold down the river by a military Court Martial, a third has, seemingly, successfully flown the coop for now (any bets he'll meet a fate like unto that of the former puppet dictator Somoza?), and Risen is, for the present, standing firm. More will come to the fore as the emperor struggles to maintain his supremacy. This story has only one possible outcome, whether it is played out sooner or later is the only question.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Article 3, Section 3 defines the ONLY Federal level crime named in the Constitution.. treason. Defined as levying war against the states, of al of them, or aiding and giving comfort to our enemies. The standard of proof is TWO OR MORE witnesses... precisely as required in the Old Testament for conviction of any serious charge. If James Risen is the ONLY witness they have, they have no case. So why persecute HIM? Keep to the Constitutioin and things of a sudden get simpler.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I feel very thankful for all of the real journalists, like Michael, on the right.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm rapidly coming to the most unfortunate conclusion that there are now only two sorts of citizenry in the U.S.: Patriots and Saboteurs. Ignorance or non-interest (low-information voters) affords absolutely no pass, no excuse. You either fall into the latter or the former category.

51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
This nation can survive very well with the bulk of its populace being stupid and uninformed, IF, they are not allowed to vote and make a mockery of the system! Only net tax payers and contributers should be allowed to vote and then only if they pass a basic civics test!
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 Next View All