Briefs & Comments

  • December 17, 2015

    Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation are suing the Department of State regarding the unconstitutionality of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The Reporters Committee argued in an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals (5th Cir.) that the regulations are impermissibly content-based, overbroad, and vague, and appear to criminalize routine reporting regarding defense technologies. The State Department's unfettered discretion to prosecute, coupled with the absence of judicial review, make it impossible to predict whether a reporter could be liable for violations of the regulations, which creates a deterrent effect and chills reporting, the brief argued.

  • November 18, 2015

    James Stackhouse, a criminal defendant appealing his conviction, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of “[w]hether a criminal defendant’s inadvertent failure to object to a courtroom closure is an ‘intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right’ that affirmatively waives his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, or is instead a forfeiture, which does not wholly foreclose appellate review.” In an amicus brief in support of the importance of open court proceedings, the Reporters Committee argued that the nearly identical First and Sixth Amendment rights of access to judicial proceedings require trial courts to independently examine whether closure is warranted, regardless of whether the defendant objects.

  • November 12, 2015

    Naji Hamdan, a United States citizen currently living in Lebanon, filed FOIA requests with several government agencies seeking information about their role in his detention and torture in the United Arab Emirates. The District Court dismissed the case, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal. The Reporters Committee submitted a brief in support of Hamdan's petition for en banc rehearing, arguing that the District Court and the panel erroneously applied a highly deferential standard of review to the government's claims that the records requested were exempt from disclosure because they were national security secrets. The amicus brief argued that the plain language of FOIA and the legislative history of the statute require more searching review. Applying the correct standard of review is crucial to ensuring that government claims of national security secrecy do not go unchecked and unscrutinized by the courts.

  • November 10, 2015

    Photographer Paul Raef was charged under California Vehicle Code 40008 for violating general driving laws while having the "intent to capture any type of visual image . . . for a commercial purpose.” When Raef challenged the constitutionality of the law, the California Superior Court found the statute unconstitutional because it targeted First Amendment activity and was overinclusive. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association, and six other amici filed a friend-of-the-court letter with the California Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Reporters Committee argued that Section 40008 is not a law of general applicability and it has more than an incidental effect on speech. Furthermore, amici believe the Court of Appeal erred in giving undue deference to police and prosecutors in enforcing this vague law that can harm traditional journalists.

  • October 21, 2015

    The Reporters Committee submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public hearing on three bills related to the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The testimony argues that no modifications should be made to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act regarding BWC videos, and includes additional information regarding the failure of the Mayor's Office to incorporate the recommendations of the BWC Advisory Group.

  • October 20, 2015

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette challenged a policy that gave Pennsylvania executive branch employees the sole discretion to determine whether or not to preserve their emails, and to permanently delete them after five days. The Reporters Committee, joined by a media coalition, argues that the records policy in question is incompatible with the PA Right to Know Law. It allows an agency to destroy public records before being required to respond to a public records request. It also inhibits administrative and judicial review of an individual employee's decision to delete their email. Finally, the brief provided examples of instances where access to emails has resulted in important stories to the citizens of Pennsylvania. 

  • October 7, 2015

    ProPublica journalist Michael Grabell requested records related to the New York Police Department's use of Z Backscatter Vans under New York's Freedom of Information Law. When the NYPD refused to comply, asserting that the release of information would endanger the Department's counterterrorism program, Grabell filed suit in New York. The court ruled that most of the information must be released. Grabell is represented by Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. We argued that the NYPD's use of backscatter x-ray technology is a matter of significant public interest and has been the subject of extensive reporting. Considering the detailed information already available to the public about backscatter x-rays, NYPD's contention that any release of information concerning the technology could allow terrorists to exploit "limitations in the van's x-ray capabilities" is unconvincing.

  • October 5, 2015

    The First Amendment Coalition sought to recover costs and fees after it received two memoranda from the government in its FOIA case. The district court held that FAC was not eligible to recover fees and costs because a decision in the Second Circuit was the reason one of the memos had been released, and therefore FAC had not "substantially prevailed." In an amicus brief, we argued that the reasons underlying the fee-shifting provision of FOIA serve many purposes, even when multiple parties seek the same information, and Congress's amendments to FOIA have made clear that a party need not secure judicial relief in order to "substantially prevail." Additionally, news, educational, and non-profit organizations play an important role in vindicating the public's right of access to government records, and should be able to rely on the ability to recover fees and costs.

  • September 25, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted comments regarding the proposed updates to the Department of Homeland Security's FOIA regulations. 

  • September 24, 2015

    BuzzFeed has asked the Supreme Court of Missouri to review a trial court judge’s decision to seal the jury list in the high profile criminal case against Michael L. Johnson, accused of recklessly transmitting the HIV virus. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted amicus suggestions in support of BuzzFeed’s petition. In the amicus suggestions, the Reporters Committee argued that jury lists are presumptively open under the First Amendment and that their closure can be justified only upon a showing of a compelling governmental interest. The Reporters Committee further argued that providing the press with access to jury lists increases public confidence by ensuring that the judicial process is conducted in the open and by exposing potential corruption.

  • September 14, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a coalition of media and journalism organizations, has written to the independent French data protection agency urging it to rescind its order that Google search delistings required under the European Union's "right to be forgotten" rule include domains not just in France or Europe, but around the world.

  • September 14, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a coalition of media and journalism organizations, has written to the independent French data protection agency urging it to rescind its order that Google search delistings required under the European Union's "right to be forgotten" rule include domains not just in France or Europe, but around the world.

  • 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.

  • August 27, 2015

    Davis is challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the Stored Communications Act that permits law enforcement to obtain a court order to compel disclosure of historical location information by a cellular phone service provider. The en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the disclosure was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Davis is seeking a writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. The compelled disclosure of historical location data implicates important First and Fourth Amendment rights. Location data can reveal sensitive, private information, including information about associational and expressive activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Fourth Amendment protections must be applied with particular rigor when First Amendment rights are at stake.

  • August 18, 2015

    The Reporters Committee wrote a letter on behalf of a 39-member media coalition protesting the decision of St. Louis County officials to press charges against several journalists arrested last year covering the events in Ferguson, Mo.