Condemn Senator’s Attempt to Curtail First Amendment Rights

Target: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Goal: Retract proposed amendment that would unconstitutionally limit the definition of journalism and the protections afforded thereunder

The federal government, until now, has had no legislation on the books protecting journalists from having to reveal their informants, testify against them, or give up unpublished information. Many states, however, do have “shield laws” to some extent, including Senator Dianne Feinstein’s native California, whose Constitution says that editors and reporters of broadcast news organizations, papers, magazines, and now “news-oriented websites” cannot be held in contempt for a refusal to provide unpublished information or the names of sources. But now, following the Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision to approve a proposed federal shield law that she finds too generous in its description of “covered journalists,” Sen. Feinstein has introduced her own amendment to the law that would restrict coverage to only those she feels are “real reporters.” The shield law would automatically exclude “any person or entity whose principal function…is to publish source documents that have been disclosed to such person or entity without authorization,” such that while covering college journalists, it excludes sites like WikiLeaks from its definition – about which Sen. Feinstein seems to be particularly concerned, considering her recent attacks on Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange accusing them of “espionage.”

Sen. Feinstein’s amendment would completely crush First Amendment free speech and free press protections, and undeniably places government secrecy and covert affairs above the people’s basic rights. In it she narrowly defines journalist as “someone who is an employee, agent, or independent contractor for a media entity,” though she was apparently amenable enough to remove the word “salaried” while protesting that it was an “unnecessary worry.” Sen. Feinstein explained the impetus for her amendment by asking, “Should this privilege apply to anyone? To a 17-year-old who drops out of high school, buys a website for $5, and starts a blog?” In so doing, she demonstrated her blatant disregard for free press rights, calling First Amendment protections a “privilege,” and betrayed her elitist frame of mind. No matter her intentions, Sen. Feinstein is preparing to stand in the way of free press protections and an informed democracy by introducing this proposal.

By signing this petition, you are calling on Sen. Feinstein to retract her proposal, as it violates the basic rights laid out in the First Amendment.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I am extremely disappointed in your recently proposed amendment to the shield law that has already gained the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This proposed legislation already includes a description of covered journalists, which does prevent protections from extending to those for whom the majority of their work involves ‘unauthorized’ primary-source documents, such as WikiLeaks. Therefore, your further restriction of the definition of journalist does little other than blatantly violate First Amendment free press rights and allow for the obscuring of government activities about which citizens have a right to know. First Amendment rights are designed to prevent the government from overstepping its boundaries, and to preserve the accountability and transparency of our democracy.

I urge you to withdraw your proposed amendment, as your concerns have already been addressed in the original proposed legislation, unless your goal is to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. I call on you to retract your comments that First Amendment rights are “privileges” that the government has the power to bestow or withdraw. As a Senator, it is your duty to defend those rights for your constituents.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: US Congress via Wikimedia Commons

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