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Judiciary Committee rejects shield bill amendments

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted down two proposed amendments to federal shield legislation and indicated that a committee or…

The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted down two proposed amendments to federal shield legislation and indicated that a committee or Senate vote may occur in the near future — even if Republican opposition prompts sponsors to bypass the committee entirely.

While some senators, including Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., John Cornyn, R-Tx., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., expressed lingering concerns over various aspects of the bill, the Obama administration recommended the legislation stay in its current form in a Nov. 4 letter to the committee from Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

After protracted discussion over proposed amendments, one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed for the committee to vote on the legislation as soon as possible.

“If you still can’t vote for this bill, you don’t really want any protections for journalists,” Schumer said. “If you believe in the need for a fair and balanced bill, this is the bill.”

The rejected amendments, introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., included a requirement that journalists privately disclose the confidential information at issue in judge’s chambers before a court determined whether the information should be privileged. Bill co-sponsor Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said this rule would be “simply designed to preclude a journalist from seeking the protection of this legislation.”

Kyl indicated he was going to propose additional amendments, prompting the chairman, Sen. Leahy, D-Vt., to set the bill aside for later consideration. Discussion on the bill will likely resume in early December, with committee Democrats poised to take unilateral action if necessary.

“If Republicans on the Committee are unwilling to cooperate in finishing our consideration of this bill, I would expect Senator Specter and Senator Schumer to take this important measure directly to the Senate calendar,” Leahy said in a statement.