Briefs & Comments

  • November 13, 2018

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of CNN and Jim Acosta's lawsuit against the White House concerning the revocation of Acosta's White House press credentials. The brief argues that the revocation of Acosta's credentials tramples on the Constitution— in particular the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press — and could have a chilling effect on other journalists. The brief argues that retaliating against Acosta and CNN for constitutionally protected newsgathering and questioning of government officials violates key First Amendment rights. The brief concludes by asking the court to grant, as quickly as possible, the restoration of Acosta's White House press credentials. The Reporters Committee was represented on the brief by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center.

  • August 14, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and 30 news media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the Sun Sentinel and two of its reporters after the School Board of Broward County filed a petition to initiate contempt proceedings against them for publishing an article containing information from a report that the school board had released to the public. The report detailed the school system's interactions with student Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A court's order permitted the school board to redact the report before it was released to the public, but the version of the report that the school board uploaded to its public website, allowed any member of the public to access the full report.

  • August 6, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and 11 media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit in In re Murphy-Brown. The brief supports Murphy-Brown's mandamus petition to vacate a gag order issued by the district court in 26 related nuisance lawsuits against hog farms run by Murphy-Brown. The district court stated that the gag order will stay in effect for the duration of these 26 cases--which are expected to last several years--and applies to hundreds of parties, counsel, court personnel, and even "potential" witnesses, who have not yet been identified or notified.  The brief argues that this broad gag order will chill newsgathering about these cases, which are of significant public concern; that it is an unconstitutional prior restraint; and that it is particularly offensive to the First Amendment in the civil context where courts are less likely to uphold gag orders.

     

  • February 14, 2018

    A Nevada district court judge ordered the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Associated Press to refrain from reporting on and to destroy copies of an anonymized autopsy report obtained through a public records request. The news outlets filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus in the Nevada Supreme Court to dissolve the prior restraint, and the Reporters Committee, along with the Nevada Press Association, filed a proposed amicus brief in support of that petition. The brief explains the significant news value in reporting on anonymized autopsy reports and the dangerous nature of the district court's gag order, which erroneously elevates purported privacy concerns over long-established First Amendment protections. The brief also focuses on the implications of the gag order for journalists and other members of the public who request records under the Nevada Public Records Act.

     

  • October 12, 2017

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 20 media organizations submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, supporting unknown plaintiff's petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc. The brief responds to a panel decision that would allow the government to prohibit wire or electronic communication service providers from disclosing information about National Security Letters (NSLs). The brief argues that this nondisclosure requirement is a prior restraint and should be subject to the most exacting scrutiny under the Supreme Court's precedent in the Pentagon Papers case. 

  • October 6, 2017

    A federal district court judge in Manhattan permanently enjoined the release of a fictionalized film by Cleopatra Films about the 1977 plane crash that killed members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, because one of the co-producers, a former member of the band, was subject to a settlement agreement that limited his ability to profit off of the band's story. Cleopatra filed an expedited appeal with the Second Circuit. RCFP's amicus brief argues that the First Amendment protects films, including fictionalizations like Cleopatra's movie, that the injunction entered by the district court is a prior restraint, which is forbidden in all but the rarest of circumstances, and that even assuming Cleopatra is bound by the settlement agreement and violated it, the proper remedy is an action for damages, not a prior restraint.

  • May 9, 2017

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the United Kingdom's Data Protection Team on the "right to be forgotten," which will be implemented as part of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). RCFP writes that the regulation's "erasure" obligation should not be extended to Online Service Providers such as Facebook or Twitter, or it will have profound negative effects on the news media and freedom of expression online. We also argued that an exception for "journalistic purposes" must be applied broadly to ensure protection under international principles protecting the right to information and freedom of expression.

  • October 3, 2016

    A Canadian court ordered Google to remove links to a company's products from its search engine worldwide, not just in Canada. Google appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Reporters Committee and a coalition of American media companies intervened to argue that such worldwide takedown demands are overbroad and will have a seriously detrimental effect on freedom of expression, particularly if other countries impose similarly sweeping restrictions to enforce their own laws.

  • September 26, 2016

    In this case, the District Court recognized that the nondisclosure requirements in a National Security Letter statute (18 U.S.C. § 2709(c)) amount to a prior restraint, it nonetheless applied a lesser level of scrutiny than prior restraints receive. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Reporters Committee argued the district court's permissive standard is only appropriate in limited circumstances, such as licensing regimes for obscene movies. Section 2709(c), on the other hand, restrains speech on matters of public concern. The brief concluded that a ruling by the Ninth Circuit finding the nondisclosure provision is anything less than a classic prior restraint - requiring the highest burden on the government - will weaken essential constitutional protections guaranteeing the free flow of information to the public.

  • September 2, 2016

    Microsoft challenged the federal law that allows the Department of Justice to impose gag orders, often permanently, on communications services providers when served with a search warrant for their customers' records. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of 29 other media organizations, argued that the gag orders function as prior restraints that interfere with the news media's right to receive information, interfere with the right of access to court records, and threaten the confidential relationship between reporters and their sources. The brief was written with attorneys with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

  • August 10, 2016

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, together with 30 other media organizations, filed an amicus letter brief with the California Supreme Court urging it to review a case in which Yelp was ordered to take down material from its site without notice or an opportunity to be heard. A trial court had entered a default judgment in a libel suit after the defendant failed to appear and contest the suit. The plaintiff then sought and received an injunction requiring Yelp to remove the reviews. Two courts found that Yelp was bound by the injunction. The amicus letter argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes online services providers from injunctions, an injunction restraining speech of a nonparty is an improper remedy for a defamation action, and the lower courts improperly required a content distributor to remove speech before allowing an opportunity to be heard.

  • September 3, 2015

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus letter in a controversial case over abortion-related videos. The National Abortion Federation is suing the Center for Medical Progress for breach of contract, among other claims, related to CMP's dissemination of video recordings taken at abortion services conferences. NAF obtained a temporary restraining order enjoining CMP from disseminating additional videos. The Reporters Committee argued that any temporary restraining order purporting to enjoin speech protected by the First Amendment must be subjected to strict scrutiny.

  • March 26, 2015

    In October 2014, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the Pasadena Police Officers Association (PPOA) to release a redacted copy of a report produced by the Office of Independent Review Group for the City of Pasadena that reviewed police department policies in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed teenager. In January, the L.A. Times filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in California for release of the report. The PPOA quoted from the report liberally in its reply brief, which was filed publicly without redaction, and the brief was distributed to the parties. Nine days later, PPOA sought to replace the unredacted copy of the brief with a redacted version, to file the unredacted version under seal, and to have the parties return their copy of the unredacted brief to the court. The Court of Appeal issued the order. The L.A.

  • March 18, 2015

    Nick Merrill is suing the FBI to lift a ten-year-old gag order preventing him from disclosing key details related to a National Security Letter (NSL) he received in 2004. NSLs are a secretive form of administrative subpoena frequently accompanied by a nondisclosure order. Merrill was the first person to challenge the constitutionality of NSLs. In 2010, the gag order preventing Merrill from speaking about the NSL he received was partially lifted, but the FBI continued to bar Merrill from disclosing the categories of information they sought in the 2004 NSL. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus brief in support of Merrill arguing that the press and the public have a constitutional right to hear information that Merrill wishes to disclose. We also argued that information regarding how FBI uses NSLs to obtain communication records has significant statutory and constitutional implications.

  • February 17, 2015

    Twitter is suing the Department of Justice in the Northern District of California, contending that restrictions on disclosing the number of FISA requests and national security letters it receives are unconstitutional prior restraints on its speech. Five U.S. communications providers filed motions in 2013 to allow them to publish aggregate data about FISA orders and national security letters they had received. These five companies — Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn — entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice allowing for limited disclosures. Twitter took issue with the fact that providers who have never received a NSL or FISA order are apparently forbidden to reveal that fact. The government argued that the district court should dismiss the case, contending that the FISA Court is a more appropriate venue.