Reporters Committee asks U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the right to challenge subpoenas seeking confidential source information

Press Release | December 20, 2012

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme court arguing that two Boston College researchers should be allowed to challenge federal government subpoenas seeking confidential information gleaned from interviews with members of the Irish Republican Army and others involved in the Northern Ireland “Troubles.”

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that there is no privilege under the First Amendment that would allow the researchers to keep the interviews confidential when they are subpoenaed as part of a criminal investigation. The researchers had brought their own case against the government after their attempt to intervene in the subpoena action against Boston College had been denied, and the court found that they did not have a sufficient claim.

“The First Amendment interests at stake — the freedom to gather information for later dissemination to the public from confidential sources without government interference — is the same whether the government compels from petitioners the production of their confidential information or instead compels production of that information from third parties entrusted with its safe keeping,” the brief argues. “Those constitutionally protected speech interests are not diminished because the confidential information is entrusted to an outside party and deserve the same level of judicial review through the balancing of competing interests.”

The Reporters Committee brief argued that any challenge touching on First Amendment interests necessitates judicial review.

"There is significant precedent in the courts upholding journalists’ ability to protect their confidential sources, even if the information is housed by a third party,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “What’s particularly troubling here is that the lower court simply shut down the opportunity to challenge the government subpoenas.”

The Reporters Committee brief in Moloney v. Holder is online.

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· News: First Circuit hears oral argument in Boston College subpoenas case