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Utah attorney general leads effort for federal shield law recognizing reporter privilege

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff recently asked 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 states as well as Utah, pointed out the state office.

The brief filed by the Shurtleff and the attorneys general from the 34 state urges the nations high court to recognize a news reporter's privilege.

"A free society needs a free press," commented Shurtleff. "We are asking the supreme court to make sure reporters are not prosecuted under federal law for doing something they are encouraged to do under state law."

The amicus brief asked the U.S. 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 requested the implementation of a federally recognized reporter's privilege.

According to Shurtleff, guidelines recognizing reporter privilege is already found in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

However, the federal district courts have issued numerous contradictory rulings on what the reporter privilege actually means.

The case currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, Miller vs. United States of America, considers three issues:

•Does the First Amendment provide journalists protection from revealing confidential sources in federal criminal proceedings?

•Should a federal privilege be created to protect journalists who are subpoenaed to reveal confidential sources in federal criminal proceedings?

•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 U.S. 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," noted Shurtleff.

"It is time for the courts to clarify the relationship between reporters and their sources," concluded the Utah Attorney general.

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