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Denson v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

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  1. Newsgathering

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 16 media organizations

Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Date Filed: Aug. 6, 2020

Background: In June, Jessica Denson, a former staffer for Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, filed a class-action lawsuit against the campaign to nullify the nondisclosure agreement each staffer was required to sign.

Denson’s attorneys argue that the nondisclosure agreement is overly broad and indefinite, running contrary to established New York public policy. They also claim it violates the First Amendment by requiring a waiver of the right to engage in political speech.

In a motion for summary judgment, Denson’s attorneys asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to declare the Trump campaign’s form nondisclosure agreement void and unenforceable.

Our Position: The district court should grant summary judgment to the current and former Trump campaign staffers who have signed the challenged nondisclosure agreement and hold that the nondisclosure agreement is void and unenforceable.

  • The news media’s access to sources within political campaigns is critical to their ability to fairly and accurately report on candidates for public office.
  • The nondisclosure agreement is unenforceable and contrary to public policy because it impedes the public’s First Amendment right to receive information.

Quote: “When political campaigns require campaign staff to sign NDAs, they chill staff members’ speech and prevent the public from learning vital information about candidates for political office.”

Related: Earlier this year, the Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Mary Trump’s efforts to publish a book about her uncle, President Donald Trump. The brief argued that a confidentiality agreement Mary Trump had signed 19 years earlier is unenforceable because it runs contrary to established public policy and the First Amendment.

In 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that Baltimore’s practice of forcing victims in police misconduct cases to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to settle is unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee and 19 media organizations had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that the routine practice of using nondisclosure agreements silences the victims in these cases, restricting the news media’s ability to report on police misconduct allegations.