While speaking to students at the University of Denver Thursday, recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that when the supreme court finds itself hearing the case of the United States is loudly threatening to bring against document leak site Wikileaks the "highest court in the land" will have to weigh between the First Amendment and the nation's national security.
In response to a questioned posed by a student in the audience (I am going to assume it was about the afore mentioned case against Wikileaks), Justice Sotomayor stated "That was not the beginning of that question, but an issue that keeps arising from generation to generation, of how far we will permit government restriction on freedom of speech in favor of protection of the country,” Sotomayor said. “There’s no black-and-white line.” According to Sotomayor, the balance between national security and free speech is “a constant struggle in this society, between our security needs and our first amendment rights, and one that has existed throughout our history.”
How Free is free...
In July, 90,000 classified documents were released on the internet by Wikileaks (a foreign website that has already released a few embarrassing bits of information about the United States and their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). After a brief investigation of the tens of thousands of leaked documents, the Pentagon found no evidence that the disclosure harmed U.S. national security or endangered American troops in the field.
The Obama administration and certain members of Congress, however, have portrayed the release as a dire threat to national security. Obama asked Britain, Germany, Australia, and other allies to consider criminal charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the organization is guilty of “moral culpability” in the murder of U.S. soldiers. The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King, said the release of documents violates espionage laws and amounts to treason. The FBI is investigating and the Justice Department said it was looking into pursuing criminal charges in the case. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, has demanded the death penalty for SPC Bradley Manning, the man arrested and charged with providing the documents to Wikileaks.
Julian Assange had contacted the White House prior to releasing the documents and the New York Times acted as an intermediary. Wikileaks wanted to give the government a chance to make sure innocent people were identified, but the White House did not respond to the offer. The Times, Britain’s The Guardian, and the German weekly Der Spiegel published selected Wikileaks documents without consulting the government.
Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the Free Flow of Information Act (which allows for journalists to protect their sources when dealing with classified government documents) may need to be modified in response to Wikileaks. The senators want to change the language to specify that Wikileaks and organizations like it will not be able to use the act to protect the identities of confidential sources.
Kurt Wimmer, an attorney representing the Newspaper Association of America, agreed with this exclusion. “There’s a distinction (between) how Wikileaks works and how news media organizations work,” he said and described Wikileaks as more of “a drop box for leaked documents” than a legitimate news source. (This really should come as no surprise. The nation's newspapers are a dying industry as more and more Americans turn to the nearly instantaneous 24 hour news channels and the internet for their news coverage. By limiting the ability of "new media" to conceal sources, it essentially neuters it.)
When they came for my neighbor...
It occurred to me while reading the initial reports of Justice Sotomayor's comments that we are currently living in the very times our "Founding Fathers" specifically wrote the Bill of Rights for... to protect free peoples from an ever encroaching (and entitled) bloated juggernaut of a government from impeding the rights of its citizens.
Call me "slippery slope guy" if you like, but in my opinion any effort by the Federal Government to limit the ability of the press to "shine the light of truth" on the powerful put us all in danger of losing our rights to speak freely against the powerful.
Our government has become unfathomably massive in recent history (since the reaction to the attacks of September 11); it's tentacles of control slowly spreading into ever facet of our lives. It is in times such as these, when the barbarians of tyranny stand so close to the gates protecting free people, when those precious freedoms that we all (including the media) have to speak the truth and decry the actions of a tyrannically motivated government are so very important.
And I am not alone in this thought...
In 1971, the Supreme Court heard a similar case in which Richard Nixon's White House attempted to censure the New York Times from running with some classified documents it had managed to obtain.
In its ruling on the case, then Justice Hug Black had this to say:
We are asked to hold that, despite the First Amendment's emphatic command, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws enjoining publication of current news and abridging freedom of the press in the name of "national security." The Government does not even attempt to rely on any act of Congress. Instead, it makes the bold and dangerously far-reaching contention that the courts should take it upon themselves to "make" a law abridging freedom of the press in the name of equity, presidential power and national security, even when the representatives of the people in Congress have adhered to the command of the First Amendment and refused to make such a law. To find that the President has "inherent power" to halt the publication of news by resort to the courts would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make "secure." No one can read the history of the adoption of the First without being convinced beyond any doubt that it was injunctions like those sought here that Madison and his collaborators intended to outlaw in this Nation for all time.
The word "security" is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic. The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged.
** To read the entire brief as written by Justice Black, follow the link...
Wise words, no???
Whether or not we feel the actions of Wikileaks (or any other news source that runs classified documents) are a threat to national security, the fact remains that we, as a people, need to stand up against such movements by any branch of our government to censure such speech.
It is not the job of the American media to help the Government keep its secrets and for the Government to make any effort to "persuade" them to do so is criminal.
For the Government, be it through intimidation, favor, or fiat, to be successful in censuring the media in speaking freely would be catastrophic to our freedoms and our abilities to keep them.Take the Red Pill folks.... before it is too late...