High court won't hear appeal, ban on death row interviews stands

Curry Andrews | Prior Restraints | Quicklink | March 8, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would not hear the appeal of a death row inmate who argued that a federal policy banning in-person interviews violated his constitutional rights.

David Paul Hammer sued the Bureau of Prisons in 2001 when he was denied face time with the media after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's appearance on "60 Minutes" prompted a federal rule change. Then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft justified the prohibition on interviews with death row inmates by citing the potential dangers of giving criminals airtime. Hammer argued that it was a violation of his free speech rights.

A trial court initially dismissed Hammer's lawsuit, but a three-judge appellate panel said more information was needed to decide whether the case was properly dismissed. Numerous media outlets, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Indianapolis (7th Cir.), which upheld the ban. Hammer then asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

The high court's decision not to hear Hammer v. Ashcroft means the ban on face-to-face interviews with death row inmates in federal prisons will stand.