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Broad-Based Show of Support for Federal Shield Law Ahead of Key Senate Vote

With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to take up federal shield law legislation tomorrow, advocates are rallying support for passage of this crucial First Amendment protection

The Authors Guild is part of a coalition of news companies, media trade groups and other free press advocacy organizations that have sent a letter to Judiciary Committee members that says:

“In the wake of revelations that the Justice Department used a warrant to obtain the email content of a Fox News reporter, and secretly subpoenaed Associated Press phone records affecting over 100 journalists and covering over 20 lines (including work, home and cell phones; bureaus in three different cities; and the AP line at the House of Representatives press gallery), a federal shield law is needed now more than ever to prevent government overreach and protect the public’s right to know.”

Those revelations led Attorney General Eric Holder recently to issue new guidelines for obtaining journalists’ records while investigating leaks. The bipartisan Free Flow of Information Act, based on a 2009 bill that made it through committee but failed to become law, would expand on and codify those new DOJ guidelines.

Holder supports the bill. In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy this week, he points out that legislative action is necessary for some reforms, including setting clear standards for judicial review of subpoenas. Holder reiterates, as have the bill’s sponsors, that the legislation strikes a balance between protecting journalists and preserving national security by maintaining the DOJ’s ability to pursue “those who violate their oaths through unlawful disclosure of information.”

Also this week, the Media Law Resource Center sent an email hoping to recruit more like-minded voters to the cause ahead of tomorrow’s Judiciary Committee meeting:

“We are urging our members to consider grassroots efforts in their jurisdictions and, if your senator is on the Judiciary Committee, to contact him or her TODAY and urge them to vote YES on S. 987 when it comes up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

As legislators consider the bill, one major issue they are expected to grapple with is defining a “covered person”–that is, who in this age of WikiLeaks and basement bloggers should be protected by a federal shield law.