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Two-Faced Republicans Blocked the Bill that May Have Prevented AP Records Seizure

mitch_mcconnellLast Friday, news broke that the Department of Justice had seized Associated Press phone records, in order to determine the source of a leak of information regarding a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen last year. Now, I should start by saying that the purpose of this article is not in any way to shift blame for what happened to the Republican party. While I support the Administration on many things, I am not afraid to call them out on those I disagree with. Seizing the AP’s phone records without notifying them was wrong, ran afoul of the protected First Amendment freedom of the press, should not have occurred, and should be disconcerting to all Americans regardless of party affiliation. However, while the administration is in fact to blame for the DOJ’s actions, the fact still remains that a federal shield law proposed in 2008, which was filibustered by Republican senators, quite possibly could have prevented this from occurring.

Shield laws provide protection to news reporters. These laws allow journalists to refuse to testify in court to information they have obtained during their investigations. Essentially, they protect reporters against being forced to disclose confidential information or sources to the government during court proceedings. Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of protections for reporters and 40 states (plus D.C.) have passed shield laws which explicitly give reporters this privilege. However, there is no federal shield law. Thus, when it comes to the federal government, reporters have no such protection.

More importantly, in 2008, a federal shield law did make its way to the floor of Congress and received broad bipartisan support in the House. Unfortunately, it was filibustered by Republican members of the Senate in a party-line 51-43 vote. Furthermore, following yesterday’s Congressional hearings on the seizures, the White House contacted Senator Chuck Schumer and requested that he re-introduce the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create a federal shield law. This law, had it passed in 2008, would have given journalists some protections for refusing to identify confidential sources in federal proceedings, and would have enabled journalists to request that a federal judge quash subpoenas for their phone records. It is a much needed piece of legislation that would have already been law, had Senate Republicans not shamelessly blocked it in 2008.

In closing, while it is unknown whether a federal shield law definitely would have prevented the seizure of phone records, the fact still remains that the only reason the law wasn’t passed was because the Republican party didn’t want it to. Moreover, while the Obama Administration is clearly at fault for it’s transgressions; for what it’s worth, Republicans must partially share the blame for their 2008 obstruction of this preventive legislation.

CORRECTION: (5/16/2013 5:33 PM CDT)

An earlier version of this article stated that “wiretapping of phone lines” had occurred, which was incorrect. We apologize for the confusion.

About Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.nestico George Nestico

    I awoke one morning to find that Tricky dickie the second and his whipping boy GWB along with congress had just Passed the patriots act, in it was the ability for our Government and local police dept to tap any ones Phone line they pleased without a warrant, and they wasted no time doing it, they were taping Our Brave men and women’s phone calls back home to their loved ones, hmmm when it broke it was reported but went away faster than a piece of flash paper, we had just lost a right as Americans, stripped away while we were all sleeping, Now the Government has attacked the press and they don’t like it, and this has been news for what the last week lol and will continue until the press gets It’s complete satisfaction and some one’s head falls because they have violate the presses rights to free press. OK but had the press and News stations perused the patriots act with the vigor that they are pursuing their own little misfortune we wouldn’t be in this place right now, the press dropped the ball big time,and now feel that they have been violated that’s rich, the press never should have let that patriots act rest they should have been out in front of that till it was repealed, the way I see it the JD has every right to go after the phone records as they feel it breached the security of the U.S. and that falls under the Patriot’s act, because the press didn’t do their job to begin with as they were perusing more irrelevant stories. This is not the republicans fault no this is what the republicans wanted and the press gave them a free ride, no this is the presses and News stations fault and now they feel violated, now the press knows how we Americans finally feel. the problem is we have news stations and papers that take sides, and that gives us opinions not facts misinformation and not truth, the news media’s job is to inform and at that they are failing.

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