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U.S. Marshal orders reporters to erase recordings of Scalia speech

  • October 29, 2019
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News Media Update MISSISSIPPI Confidentiality/Privilege

U.S. Marshal orders reporters to erase recordings of Scalia speech

A federal marshal forced two reporters to erase audiotape recordings of a speech given by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a private Mississippi high school.

April 8, 2004 — Two reporters were ordered yesterday to erase their audiotape recordings of a speech by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, given at a private high school in Mississippi. During the speech, U.S. Deputy Federal Marshal Melanie Rube demanded that an Associated Press reporter and a Hattiesburg American reporter erase their tapes.

According to an AP story today, the marshal said Scalia had asked that his appearance not be recorded.

The incident took place at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., where Scalia delivered a speech extolling the Constitution. While Scalia told an auditorium of students that “the Constitution is extraordinary and amazing. People just don’t revere it like they used to,” the marshal seized the recording device and erased its contents with the help of the reporter, according to the AP.

The Reporters Committee wrote a letter of protest to Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.S. Marshals Service Director Benigno G. Reyna, and Southern Mississippi U.S. Marshal Nehemiah Flowers. The letter states that the actions taken by Rube clearly violated the Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits government officers investigating a criminal offense from being able to “search for or seize any work product materials” possessed by a member of the news media.

The Reporters Committee also noted that the Department of Justice guidelines concerning interactions with the news media provide procedures that must be followed by all members of the department, including U.S. marshals. The guidelines provide that members of the Justice Department must negotiate with a member of the news media before seeking to subpoena the member, and must obtain the attorney general’s approval before issuing a subpoena to a member of the news media.

“While the Mississippi situation did not involve a search warrant or a subpoena, it should go without saying that the protections granted for those situations apply with equal or greater force in situations of even less urgency,” the letter urged.

At a reception following yesterday’s speech, Scalia told television reporters from Hattiesburg station WDAM-TV to leave. In March 2003, he prohibited television coverage of his appearances at The City Club of Cleveland, where he received “The Citadel of Free Speech Award” in honor of his support of the First Amendment.

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Other links:

Letter to Attorney General, U.S. Marshals over interference with reporters at Scalia speech (4/8/2004)
Letter to Justice Scalia over marshal’s interference with reporters at speech (4/8/2004)

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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