Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is asking the United States Supreme Court to consider a federal shield law for reporters and confidential sources. Shurtleff led the effort to file a friend-of-the-court brief that has been signed by attorneys general from 33 other states and urges the court to recognize a "reporter's privilege."
"A free society needs a free press," says Shurtleff. "We are asking the Supreme Court to make sure reporters aren't prosecuted under federal law for doing something they are encouraged to do under state law."
The amicus brief that will be filed tomorrow asks the Supreme Court for a balancing test that would weigh the public interest in a reporter's ability to gather news against the need to disclose confidential sources. The attorneys general also request a federally recognized reporter's privilege-a recognition that is already found in 49 states and the District of Columbia. However, the federal district courts have issued numerous contradictory rulings on what the privilege actually means.
The case, Miller v. United States of America, considers three issues:
1. Does the First Amendment provide journalists protection from revealing confidential sources in federal criminal proceedings?
2. Should a federal privilege be created to protect journalists who are subpoenaed to reveal confidential sources in federal criminal proceedings?
3. Is it fair to imprison a reporter for refusing to disclose sources without giving the reporter a chance to look at the government's evidence of the need for disclosure?
The case involves a Department of Justice investigation into leaks about a CIA agent and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. New York Times correspondent Judith Miller was found in civil contempt and ordered to serve up to 18 months behind bars for failing to identify her confidential sources.
"From the colonial times of John Peter Zenger and Benjamin Franklin to today, journalists have been willing to go to jail to protect their ability to keep the public informed," says Shurtleff. "It is time for the courts to clarify the relationship between reporters and their sources."