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State attorneys general endorse federal shield law

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press applauds 42 state attorneys general for their support of the Free Flow…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press applauds 42 state attorneys general for their support of the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 2035), which would create a qualified federal shield law. The Reporters Committee urges U.S. Senate leadership to heed the call of the attorneys general and address the measure, which has sat idle for more than eight months.

Indicating widespread state support of the proposed bill, a bi-partisan coalition of 41 attorneys general led by Attorneys General Douglas Gansler from Maryland and Rob McKenna from Washington urged Senate leadership to quickly pass the measure in a letter that they will deliver July 8th when the Senate returns from its Summer recess. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote separately to endorse the bill.

“Reporter shield laws, which have been adopted through either legislation or judicial decision by every state but one, must now be viewed as a policy experiment that has been thoroughly validated through successful implementation at the state level,” the coalition letter said.

“By exposing confidences protected under state law to discovery in federal courts, the lack of a corresponding federal reporter’s privilege law frustrates the purposes of the state recognized privileges and undercuts the benefit to the public that the states have sought to bestow through their shield laws,” the letter added.

Support from Congress has mimicked the broad bi-partisan support provided by the state attorneys general. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure in early October by a 15 – 4 vote. Two weeks later, a similar bill passed the full House of Representatives 398 – 21. The measure now sits awaiting consideration from the full Senate.

"The letter from the state attorneys general supporting a federal shield law is unprecedented," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. "These attorneys are the chief law enforcement officers of their states, and most of them have lived with state shield laws for decades. They understand that shield laws are not an impediment to justice. Rather, they are an essential tool in allowing citizens to engage in oversight of their public institutions."

The NAAG letter is available at: www.rcfp.org/newsitems/docs/20080625_naag_letter.pdf