The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 16 other media organizations yesterday urged Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to stay enforcement of a Colorado trial judge’s order prohibiting the media from publishing details from a mistakenly released transcript in the Kobe Bryant case.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday, the news groups supported the request of seven other news organizations — those who received the transcripts — to suspend the order until it can be reviewed by the full Supreme Court. The petition was addressed to Justice Breyer because he handles emergency requests from the geographic area that includes Colorado.
Both sets of news organizations contend that District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s June 24 order, which was narrowly upheld Monday by the Colorado Supreme Court, constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on the press, in violation of the First Amendment. Ruckriegle threatened news organizations with contempt of court if they printed information from the transcripts.
“Without a prompt stay of the trial court’s order, the seven news organizations face an unconstitutional and intolerable choice: either continue to submit to government censorship or risk contempt charges,” the news groups argued in their friend-of-the-court brief.
“Monday’s action by the Colorado Supreme Court was unprecedented,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee. “If allowed to stand, it will be the first time a claim of privacy has trumped the First Amendment protection against prior restraints.”
The brief points out that prior restraints are virtually never upheld. “If this Court allows the order to stand, it will be the first time in its history that it has sanctioned a prior restraint of the media,” the news groups stated. They predicted that the Colorado Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision upholding the prior restraint “will have a corrosive effect on press freedoms.”
It is unknown exactly when Breyer will rule on the petition, but emergency requests to a Justice are usually decided within several days. Attorneys for the state of Colorado were expected to file a response Friday.