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Six degrees of Antonin Scalia

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  1. Newsgathering
As legal scholars and friends remember the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia so, too, does the Reporters Committee…

As legal scholars and friends remember the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia so, too, does the Reporters Committee recall an exchange in 2004, when a letter of concern over erasure of reporters' recordings of remarks by the Justice garnered an apology for the incident in a personal note of reply.

In April 2004, reporters from The Associated Press and The Hattiesburg (Miss.) American were ordered by U.S. Marshals to erase recordings of comments presented by Scalia during an event at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg. Although the event was open to the press, Scalia had requested that it not be recorded.

In a letter of concern to Scalia, the Reporters Committee — which similarly wrote to the Attorney General and the U.S. Marshals Service — noted, "As you are certainly aware, the essence of the First Amendment's free press clause is the right to gather and publish news without government interference."

Calling the incident "troubling," the Reporters Committee called on Scalia to both change his policy of forbidding recordings at his public speaking events, and also to remind those who provide security "that they are not allowed to search for and erase recordings.

"In addition to the legal and public policy problems with this practice, we hope that you will consider the public benefit of asssiting members of the news media as they seek to accurately report public statements by public officials."

In a letter of reply dated the next day, Scalia thanked the Reporters Committee for its "well justified concern" over the incident.

"You are correct that the action was not taken at my directon; I was as upset as you were," he wrote. "I have written to the reporters involved, extending my apology and undertaking to revise my policy so as to permit recording for use of the print media."

Scalia pointed out that security personnel, including the Marshals Service, "do not operate at my direction, but I shall certainly express that as my preference.

"The electronic media in the past respected my First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so, and I am sure that courtesy will continue," he added.