July 3, 2013

JAMES TARANTO: Is This Column Legitimate?

Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. “Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech,” he writes. So far so good. “But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”

That goes against the America’s entire constitutional tradition. In Lovell v. Griffin (1938), Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court: “The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.” . . .

Further, a government that grants privileges also has the power to take them away. A shield law would make those designated as “legitimate journalists” beholden to powerful politicians–especially when, as today, most journalists are ideologically sympathetic to the party in power. The Durbin shield proposal looks less like real protection than a protection racket.

Well, Durbin is from Illinois. More here.

Note that, as Eugene Volokh and I have both pointed out, the Constitution’s term “freedom of the press” means “freedom to publish,” not “freedom for the institutional Press.” But Durbin’s a partisan ignoramus, so he can’t be expected to know this sort of thing. I mean, he’s only a Senator, and there’s no IQ test for that job. . . .

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