sorry, but I still want my pound of flesh.
apologies have been given and promises made. Still,
the transgression was so profound, so antithetical
to the letter and spirit of the Constitution,
that it's hard to let it go at that.
those who missed it: Last week, Supreme Court
Justice Antonin Scalia went to Hattiesburg, Miss.,
to speak at Presbyterian Christian High. Scalia
typically does not allow video or audio recordings
to be made of his speeches, but no such prohibition
was announced at this particular appearance, which
was open to the public. Two reporters covering
the event recorded the speech in order to quote
it accurately in their stories. Web Vote Do you
agree with Leonard Pitts Jr. that the recent Scalia
incident indicates an erosion of civil liberties?
Yes -- Government officials seizing reporters'
tapes does not bode well. No -- This was an isolated
incident and Scalia has even apologized.
both were confronted by a deputy of the United
States Marshals Service, which provides security
for Supreme Court justices.
deputy seized a digital recorder from Denise Grones
of The Associated Press and erased its contents.
She also confiscated a cassette tape from Antoinette
Konz of the Hattiesburg American and later returned
me, I have a tendency to go overboard when things
like this happen. I start raving about jackboots
and making unflattering comparisons to North Korea
and other bastions of freedom.
instead of subjecting you to me ranting, "Oh,
my God. That boggles the mind," I decided to seek
a sober, reasoned response from an expert. I turned
to Robert Beatty, an authority on the First Amendment
who is vice president and general counsel for
this very newspaper.
LETTER OF APOLOGY
my God," he said. "That boggles the mind."
Jones, a professor of constitutional law at the
University of Miami, agreed. He called it "outrageous."
the First Amendment means anything," said Jones,
"[It means] the public has a right to know. The
right to information is a key right, along with
the right to express one's ideas. Our ability
to function as citizens, our ability to vote intelligently,
everything depends on the free flow of information."
is chilling of the First Amendment," Beatty said.
"It is chilling of the need of news gatherers
to gather the news."
it is galling, too, given that we're talking about
a Supreme Court justice whose speech -- hello?
-- reportedly extolled the virtues of the Constitution.
Can you spell irony, boys and girls?
noted, Scalia has written a letter of apology
to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the
Press, which had criticized the seizure. While
promising to allow future speeches to be recorded,
he also said, "The action was not taken at my
justice's claim of blamelessness is undermined,
if not flat contradicted, by Nehemiah Flowers,
the U.S. marshal in Jackson, Miss., who told The
New York Times, "This is a justice of the Supreme
Court and as far as we're concerned, we're following
the court's orders."
ON STANDING POLICY
spokeswoman for the Marshals Service in Washington
added that the confiscation was "based on the
justice's standing policy."
might write it off as an isolated example of a
judge's bad judgment, except that there is a context
here, isn't there? It's a context that finds the
government's powers of surveillance expanded,
Americans of Arab heritage detained indefinitely
without access to counsel, John Ashcroft legally
empowered to poke into our reading habits.
there's this: government officials seizing what
amounts to a reporter's notes. There can be few
things more intimidating or less likely to instill
confidence in government's respect for constitutional
guarantees. This is, to the contrary, a troubling
reminder that there is nothing foreordained about
civil liberties, and that the rights we take for
granted can be eroded, snatched away.
are ominous times for freedom. You might want
to speak out while you still can.
Posted: April 18, 2004