Briefs & Comments

  • July 10, 2014

    The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a civil rights case, finding that the Muslim plaintiffs who alleged that the NYPD's surveillance of them violated their civil rights did not have standing to sue. The court found that the harm caused by the surveillance program was attributable to the news reporting of the Associated Press in breaking news of the surveillance. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and North Jersey Media Group Inc. argued in this brief that the court's decision to blame the media instead of the government entity that ran the surveillance program misapplies the law of Article III standing. It also threatens the protections that the Supreme Court has given to the free press, and ignores that the AP's reporting fits into the American tradition of watchdog journalism that has led to important debate and reform.

  • June 20, 2014

    The Jewish Daily Forward sought records from the New York City health department regarding mohels who have given babies herpes during, as the paper reported, "the performance of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite used by some ultra-Orthodox men, in which the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound with direct oral to genital contact." Some of the rabbis involved in this practice are refusing to give parents a consent form required by law. The case centers on the privacy rights of the mohels versus the right to know about public health issues. In the case, which is on appeal to the NY Supreme Court Appellate Division, the Reporters Committee argued that the mohel had a reduced privacy interest in his identity given his professional status and that the public interest outweighed any privacy interest he had due to the grave health risks associated with the procedure.

  • May 28, 2014

    The Cherokee Nation Council was considering several changes to the tribe's freedom of information law, including extending the time tribal agencies would have to respond to a request and consolidating all FOI processing in the attorney general's office. The Reporters Committee urged tribal leaders to minimize the changes to response times and, if a consolidation of processing were necessary, to put that authority in an independent office instead of a political one.

  • May 22, 2014

    The Reporters Committee wrote a letter on behalf of itself and 14 other news organizations, weighing in on the issue of whether SCOTUSblog should be allowed to hold press credentials. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, made up of five journalists, requires that qualifying news organizations "be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government, or that is not principally a general news organization." The committee had questions about the relationship between the news site and both the founder's law firm and its sole sponsor, Bloomberg Law. We urged the committee to recognize that funding and management relations can be complex with new forms of media and to allow for flexibility when a site has demonstrated that it is indeed covering the news.

  • May 15, 2014

    The Reporters Committee, the ACLU of Missouri, and Christopher McDaniel, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, filed a lawsuit under Missouri's freedom of information law challenging the state's denials of requests for information related to lethal injection drugs. The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel had all requested details about where the state was getting drugs to be used in executions, as well as information about where the drugs were tested. The state withheld the information about laboratories and pharmacies under an exemption to its public records statute that allows withholding the identities of "members of the execution team." The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel argue that neither the pharmacies producing the drugs, nor the laboratories testing them, are properly considered "members of the execution team."

  • May 15, 2014

    The Reporters Committee, the ACLU of Missouri, and Christopher McDaniel, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, filed a lawsuit under Missouri's freedom of information law challenging the state's denials of requests for information related to lethal injection drugs. The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel had all requested details about where the state was getting drugs to be used in executions, as well as information about where the drugs were tested. The state withheld the information about laboratories and pharmacies under an exemption to its public records statute that allows withholding the identities of "members of the execution team." The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel argue that neither the pharmacies producing the drugs nor the laboratories testing them are properly considered "members of the execution team."

  • May 13, 2014

    This is an effort in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to unseal documents in a 15-year-old case, USA v. John Doe. In the underlying case, Felix Sater was accused of large-scale financial crimes, and pleaded guilty to lesser charges after agreeing to cooperate with government officials. Appellants argue that the secrecy the government afforded to Sater – his case was not on the public docket for over a decade – allowed him to defraud other investors. The Reporters Committee wrote a letter to the Second Circuit on behalf of the unsealing efforts. We argued that it is especially important that the Court follow the constitutional and common-law rights of access in this case because the press has a duty to monitor whether the government is giving informants special protections.

  • May 12, 2014

    The Reporters Committee, along with eight other media groups, filed an amicus brief with the D.C. Circuit to argue that the current test agencies and courts use to define "representative of the news media" is too narrow and does not accord with the language of the 2007 FOIA amendments or the congressional intent behind those amendments, and does not leave room for evolving media outlets to qualify for waivers. Cause of Action, a government accountability group, sued the Federal Trade Commission after it denied the group a news media fee waiver and a public interest fee waiver.

  • May 8, 2014

    The Reporters Committee joined a letter by California news organizations urging the state Supreme Court to review a decision that limits public access to juvenile dependency proceedings. The challenge to the closure of a courtroom was brought by the Los Angeles Times.

  • May 8, 2014

    The Reporters Committee wrote a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of an effort to unseal documents in a 15 year-old case, USA v. John Doe. In the underlying case, Felix Sater was accused of large-scale financial crimes, and pleaded guilty to lesser charges after agreeing to cooperate with government officials. Appellants argue that the secrecy the government afforded to Sater – his case was not on the public docket for over a decade – allowed him to defraud other investors. We argued that it is especially important that the Court follow the constitutional and common-law rights of access in this case because the press has a duty to monitor whether the government is giving informants special protections.

  • May 7, 2014

    The Reporters Committee joined a brief opposing an appeal by casino owner Sheldon Adelson in his libel suit against the National Jewish Democratic Council. The case had been dismissed under the Nevada anti-SLAPP statute and as non-actionable opinion based on hyperlinked sources. NJDC had published a petition on its website entitled “Tell Romney to Reject Adelson’s Dirty Money,” which alleged Adelson had personally approved a prostitution plan in his Macao casino.

  • May 6, 2014

    The Reporters Committee filed a brief in a FOIA case concerning prison records. Prison Legal News requested from the Federal Bureau of Prisons all documents related to claims filed against the bureau and settlements related to those claims. The bureau did release much of the information PLN asked for, but redacted key details about who filed some of the complaints and who was accused, citing both FOIA privacy exemptions (b(6) and b(7)(C)) to justify the redactions. A district court judge upheld the redactions, finding that the privacy interests at stake outweighed the public interest. The Reporters Committee's brief argued that no FOIA exemption applies to the information at issue, and that if the privacy exemptions do apply, the public interest in the information outweighs the privacy interest at stake because the identity information will help the public better assess how BOP is handling tort and civil rights complaints.

  • May 2, 2014

    The Reporters Committee jjoined a media amicus brief in a case involving payment disputes between the NCAA and its student athletes. The athletes contend that they have a right of publicity in the live broadcast, or re-broadcast, of any game in which they play, meaning that broadcasters must negotiate with them for rights regardless of what rights they obtain from a school or conference. The amicus brief argues that such an outcome would be a dramatic shift in the definition of publicity rights that would interfere with the media’s ability to air matters of public interest, and is not the proper way to resolve the dispute over whether college athletes should be paid. The brief was written by Nathan Siegel and Celeste Phillips of Levine Sullivan Koch and Schulz, and Erwin Chemerinsky of U.C. Irvine.

  • May 1, 2014

    Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston, sued the Boston Herald for libel over a series of stories that discussed motivating factors that may have led fellow band member Brad Delp to take his own life. The Reporters Committee and 25 other media organizations argued the Herald's statements were protected opinion because the Herald disclosed truthful facts that formed the basis of the statements, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented, and because the Herald's conjecture as to why Delp may have taken his own life cannot be proven false and therefore cannot be actionable. The brief noted that offering analysis and speculation is an important part of journalism that contributes to a robust public discourse on matters of public importance, and the court must allow this type of speech to continue unhindered.

  • May 1, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four media organizations intervened in a political speech case, asking a Wisconsin federal court to unseal records in a civil suit that alleges that the state misused an investigatory tool to retaliate against perceived political adversaries. The underlying case alleges that the so-called John Doe proceeding was used by state prosecutors to chill conservative speech and to drum up Democratic opposition to Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker. One of the conservative targets has challenged the state’s investigation in federal court, and much of the material was placed under seal.