Oct. 4, 2007 · For the first time ever, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to send a federal reporter’s shield bill out of committee and to the Senate floor for a vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) presided over a markup session Thursday that ended with a 15-2 vote that sent the bill, S. 2035, to the Senate floor.
“The time for needless delay of this legislation has passed,” the senator said in prepared remarks. “We simply have no idea how many newsworthy stories have gone unwritten and unreported out of fear that a reporter would be forced to reveal a source, or face jail time.”
The bill faces an uncertain future on the Senate floor as critics, including the Bush administration contend that it would impair the government’s ability to discover leaks that pose a risk to national security.
The bill provides exemptions for cases involving ongoing terrorism investigations and an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) prohibits accused spies, agents of foreign countries and terrorists from receiving the protections by arguing that they are journalists.
Brownback and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) voted against the bill. And Kyl, who has offered more than two dozen amendments to the current measure, was especially vocal about his national security-related concerns during Thursday’s markup.
However, the Arizona senator agreed to work with one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to resolve some of his objections before the legislation reaches the full Senate.
The bill, which has the support of more than 50 news organizations, was one of two introduced in the Senate this year. The Judiciary Committee took up S. 2035, originally sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Schumer, instead of a bill that would have provided greater protection for journalists, which was sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). Lugar and Dodd ended up co-sponsoring S. 2035.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a similar measure, H.R. 2102, in August. And in a speech to the Associated Press Managing Editors on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she plans to bring the bill up for a vote sometime this year.
“This is fundamental to our democracy and fundamental to the security of our country,” Pelosi said.
(S. 2035, Free Flow of Information Act of 2007) — Jennifer Koons