First Amendment

Execution records appeal leads to ruling limiting Virginia FOIA disclosures

Soo Rin Kim | Freedom of Information | News | October 7, 2015
October 7, 2015

A recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a death penalty records case could jeopardize many more open records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, after the court held that a government agency can withhold an entire document if any portion is exempt and would have to be redacted.

The case started with a victory in Fairfax Circuit Court for Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had requested information from the Department of Corrections about the state's methods for executions and the facilities where they are conducted. The department appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled that state law does not require officials to redact documents. If information in a document is exempt from disclosure, the court said, the entire document can be withheld.

Fourth Circuit invalidates gag order and sealing order in Blankenship criminal trial

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | March 5, 2015
March 5, 2015

A federal appeals court today invalidated a gag order and sealing order that had been entered in the criminal case against Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Co., who faces charges stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 that killed 29 people.

The ruling is a victory for the media, which had been unable to access many court filings in the case and had been unable to discuss the substance of the charges with lawyers, parties, victims, victims’ family members, and others, who were subject to a broad gag order.

Media groups appeal gag and sealing orders in Blankenship mining case

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | February 25, 2015
February 25, 2015

Media organizations are fighting to overturn a gag order and sealing order entered in connection with the criminal trial of Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy. The matter is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

"Citizenfour" filmmakers move to dismiss federal lawsuit

Tom Isler | Commentary | February 13, 2015
February 13, 2015

The makers of Citizenfour, the Oscar-nominated documentary film about Edward Snowden, have moved to dismiss a federal civil lawsuit that alleges they aided and abetted the “illegal and morally wrongful acts” of Snowden.

Delaware Supreme Court dismisses appeal in Al Jazeera contract sealing case

Bradleigh Chance | Secret Courts | News | June 5, 2014
June 5, 2014

The Delaware Supreme Court dismissed an appeal this week of an order requiring Al Jazeera to file an almost completely unredacted version of its complaint against AT&T from a 2013 contract dispute.

Despite having both parties file briefs and deliver oral arguments, the high court threw out the appeal without explaining why.

First Circuit upholds right to record traffic stops

Kevin Delaney | Newsgathering | News | May 27, 2014
May 27, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) recognized last week a First Amendment right to video record a traffic stop that occurs in a public place. The court’s decision allows Carla Gericke to continue a civil rights lawsuit she brought against a New Hampshire police department.

In March of 2010, New Hampshire police charged Gericke with violating a state law that prohibits the unlawful interception of oral communications after Gericke appeared to use her video camera to capture a late-night traffic stop.

Even though prosecutors declined to pursue the charges, Gericke brought a suit claiming her First Amendment right to free expression was violated when the police charged her with illegal wiretapping in response to her decision to videotape the stop.

Newspaper files suit after reporters detained outside Defense contractor plant in Ohio

Michael Rooney | Newsgathering | News | April 7, 2014
April 7, 2014

The Toledo Blade filed a lawsuit Friday against various military officials after reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were detained March 28 outside a contractor-operated Department of Defense facility in Lima, Ohio.

According to the complaint, filed in a U.S. district court in Ohio, the journalists intended to take "file" photos for the newspaper's future use with stories related to the plant. They parked on a public road in front of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and took photographs of the outside of the facility, according to the complaint.

They began to leave but were stopped by military police and detained for an hour, according to the complaint. Their equipment was confiscated, and their photos were deleted.

Prosecutors drop bulk of charges against Barrett Brown over posting of hyperlink to hacked data

Michael Rooney | News | March 5, 2014
March 5, 2014

Federal prosecutors in Texas have moved to drop 11 of 12 fraud charges against Barrett Brown, an Internet activist and occasional columnist.

Brown was originally charged with several crimes after posting a hyperlink to materials obtained from a hacked computer in a public Internet chat room. Brown linked to a website that included 860,000 email addresses and the credit card information of more than 60,000 people.

However, as laid out in a legal memorandum, Brown’s attorneys believed the hyperlink charges were too vague, were in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech, and would have a chilling effect on Internet activity.

Supreme Court rules against protester, avoids First Amendment claim

Emily Grannis | News | February 27, 2014
February 27, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday unanimously declined to address the First Amendment claims of a protester who was banned from a military base , deciding the case solely on property ownership grounds.

Anti-war activist John Apel was banned from Vandenberg Air Force base in 2003 after he was involved in a protest that included throwing blood on a sign at the base. He was arrested and served two months in jail and was barred from the base for three years. After he began protesting there again in 2008, the base commander permanently banned Apel.

Journalist dismissed from embed status loses suit against military officials

Jamie Schuman | Prior Restraints | News | December 10, 2013
December 10, 2013

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., dismissed a freelance journalist's challenge last week to a U.S. Army decision to terminate the reporter's embed status with military in Afghanistan.

The Army had found that the journalist, Wayne Anderson, had published a video in 2010 showing the faces of wounded American soldiers on The Washington Times website in violation of rules governing embedded reporters. Anderson sued five military officials, claiming, among other things, that they violated his free speech and due process rights by ending his position in Afghanistan without a meaningful hearing.