ACLU: Delayed Shield-Law Vote Not Necessarily Bad News

American Civil Liberties Union: Delay provides more time to work on remaining sticking points.

It looks like there will be no vote on a federal shield law until the fall, but that may be a good thing, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The Senate Wednesday voted not to proceed to a vote on its version of the bill, which grants journalists and their sources qualified protection from federal prosecution. The House already passed a version of the bill.

Both bills have bipartisan support generally, but there are divisions in the Senate over some of the specifics in the bill, particularly over how many carve-outs there should be for information relating to national security and acts of terrorism.

The ACLU, which backs the shield law, was concerned that the bill's protections for journalists were being weakened by "the administration's relentless effort to gut significant protections in what will be the first federal shield law."

The administration threatened to veto it and Attorney General Michael Mukasey said “10 angels swearing on Bibles” in support of the bill would not change his view that it has major flaws.

Teri Schroeder, senior lobbyist for the ACLU, said it was a good-news, bad-news proposition. The bad news, she said, is that the bill's vote got caught up in the political gamesmanship of legislators heading for the door in a couple of days for their August break. The good news is that the delay provides more time to work on the remaining sticking points, which, she added, are what constitutes a journalist covered by the protection and the breadth of exceptions for national security.

Schroeder said she remains confident that a compromise bill will eventually pass when the legislators return in the fall.

So does Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who helped to spearhead the House version. “While I am disappointed that the Senate could not reach bipartisan accord to proceed with consideration of the Free Flow of Information Act," he said, "I remain confident that bipartisan majorities exist in the Congress to enact this bill this year."