More on Scalia v. Free Press

by TChris

As TalkLeft reported yesterday, U.S. Marshals guarding Justice Scalia confronted journalists who were recording his speeches to school audiences on Wednesday. Accounts of those confontations are conflicting.

Journalists report that, at a speech Justice Scalia gave to high school students in Hattiesburg, Deputy U.S. Marshal Melanie Rube demanded that they erase their recordings.

After Associated Press reporter Denise Grones balked, the marshal took her digital recorder and erased its contents -- after Grones explained how the machine worked. The marshal also asked Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinette Konz to hand over a cassette tape and returned it, erased, after the event.

Rube won't comment, but Nehemiah Flowers, the United States marshal in Jackson, Miss., said "that Deputy Rube ... asked politely if they would erase the tape." Flowers denied that the request was "coercive." Seizing the recorder and erasing the tape despite a reporter's objection seems coercive, notwithstanding Flowers' spin.

But did Rube act on her own, or at the direction of Justice Scalia? According to Flowers, Rube was "following the court's orders." But David Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said "Justice Scalia did not instruct the deputy to take that action." Seems the Marshals are having a problem getting on the same page.

The Marshals may also have a problem explaining how their interference with a free press is justified.

"The seizure and destruction of a reporter's tape recordings is remarkable, and I think it would be difficult to find any law that would justify it," said Luther T. Munford, a First Amendment expert at Phelps Dunbar, a law firm in Jackson.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press protested the seizure yesterday in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The letter noted that the deputy's action appeared to violate a 1980 federal law prohibiting most seizures of journalists' resource materials.

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