Feds Assault California’s Reporter’s Shield Law

Josh Wolf is the blogger who has been sitting in a jail cell for refusing to turn over video he took at a public rally. Now Peter Scheer at the California First Amendment Coalition is weighing in on the question of states rights:

If I were Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or California Chief Justice Ronald George, I would be deeply troubled by these developments—not only because of the First Amendment issues at stake, which are huge, but because these federal actions against journalists in California represent a wholesale usurpation of state sovereignty. The Bush administration, which has been justly criticized for attempting to enhance executive power at the expense of Congress, is now eviscerating states’ rights in order to expand the power of the federal government.

This case has been questionable from the start. The Feds justification for getting involved is that a police car, which was paid for partially with federal funds, was damaged. Anyone not presently in a persistent vegetative state can see that this was just a pretense to get around California’s shield law for reporters.

By taking this fight to the governor, Scheer makes the point that this tactic effectively invalidates the state law. A reporter can’t know in advance whether an encounter with a source would lead to the feds or the state claiming jurisdiction in a future legal proceeding. Consequently, the only safe course to take would be for the reporter to avoid the encounter entirely. What use, then, is the state’s shield law?

Obviously this does not serve the principles of freedom of the press and the people’s right to know. And by stepping on the toes of states sovereignty, it calls out for leadership form Sacramento.

Update: The Society of Professional Journalists voted to donate $30,000 to Wolf’s legal defense, saying:

“This case is evidence of a disturbing trend in which federal prosecutors are attempting to turn journalists into arms of law enforcement,” said SPJ President David Carlson. “It cannot be allowed to continue. The public’s right to know will be forever harmed.”