The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, April 09, 2004

The AP challenge: sue Scalia!

I mentioned yesterday - but could scarcely believe - the story of Federal Marshals forcing reporters to wipe tapes of so-called Justice Scalia.

Redeeming themselves a little, the bigs have got on the case: WaPo has a piece today from Charles Lane on A2 - apparently, Marshal Melanie Rube (with that moniker, love to get that girl on the stand!) is a local.

The story is that there was an announcement at an earlier event to the effect that Scalia banned recordings - but none at the event at the Presbyterian High School in Hattiesburg where the bully-boy tactics were employed.

Also on the case today is Adam Liptak of the New York Times (no indication of location of story.)

Apparently, Rube's boss is
Nehemiah Flowers, the United States marshal in Jackson
- another great name for the witness-stand! (He is of the male gender.) Liptak says
He denied that such a request was coercive or unlawful. "We do have that authority," he said. "This is a justice of the Supreme Court, and as far as we're concerned, we're following the court's orders."

You really don't need to be Johnnie Cochran, if you see what I mean.

At least one local gentleman of the law is eyeing the case with interest:
"The seizure and destruction of a reporter's tape recordings is remarkable, and I think it would be difficult to find any law that would justify it," said Luther T. Munford, a First Amendment expert at Phelps Dunbar, a law firm in Jackson.

The LA Times piece also has a law quote:
"I don't think any public official — and I don't care whether you are a Supreme Court justice or the president of the United States — has a right to speak in public and then say, 'You can't record what I have said,' " said Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University and former legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "A marshal is there for security, not to censor what a justice has said."

Now, there were two reporters who attracted the attention of Ms Rube: Denise Grones (oh dear...) of the Associated Press and Antoinette Konz (could have been worse) of the Hattiesburg American. The American has an editorial condemning the action.

If you're thinking of some owner-edited Podunk rag - the sort epitomised in real life by William Allen White's Emporia Gazette and in the movies by the that owned by Jefferson Smith's father (Mr Smith Goes To Washington), think again. The American is a Gannett newspaper.

Now, as publishers of USA Today, and thereby erstwhile employers of fabulist Jack Kelley, Gannett have naturally been (in cricketing parlance) somewhat on the back foot - playing defense, one might say [1]. A redemptive story arc would come in handy. Defending the rights of journos everywhere just seems a heaven-sent opportunity, PR-wise.

And AP is always under the cosh: wouldn't they like to come off the good guys for once?

Let's see that District Judge in Jackson drowning in paperwork!

(With a bunch of satisficing, risk-averse suits, in an election year - it's never going to happen, of course [2].)

  1. Mastery of American sports idiom just a little shaky...

  2. Reverse psychology...


The Jackson Clarion-Ledger - another Gannett - prints a piece by the American's Kevin Walters. As well as a photo of Scalia looking oleaginously smug, he has a quote from his boss:
Judith "Skippy" Haik, president and publisher of the Hattiesburg American, said she was "very disappointed that one of the strongest voices for the people of the United States did not speak out in protection of First Amendment rights."


Those of us in the section of Anglophonia still recognising the Queen as Head of State will know only the one Skippy. It's not a nickname that a girl in our section would willingly embrace after the onset of puberty, I'm thinking.

Rube, Nehemiah, Grones, Konz and Skippy: I check to see we've passed April 1...

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