Roberts Weighs In On Media Access


Supreme Court nominee John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that he thought there were "perfectly valid" reasons for the government to exclude the media from some images and venues, but that disagreement over whether certain images were appropriate wasn't one of them, or at least not a "compelling" one.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had asked whether the First Amendment justified denying access to certain images, pointing specifically to coverage of rescue operations of Hurricane Katrina.

Roberts did not say which reasons were "perfectly valid."

How would you analyze an instance, Leahy said, in which "the media comes and says, 'Look, the government screwed up and we're trying to get in there and take pictures to show how they screwed up,'" said Leahy. "And they say you can't come in." (FEMA is not imbedding journalists with the crews searching for bodies, and some media organzations have sued for access, though a FEMA spokeswoman told B&C that it had no prohibition on coverage, just no imbedding policy).

Roberts, saying he was not particularly up to speed on access precedents, said he started with the general principle, which he credited to Justice Louis Brandeis, of "sunlight being the best disinfectant."

Roberts said there was a "great difficulty whenever you try to distinguish between public rights and media rights. If it is a situation in which the public is being given access, you can't discriminate against the media and say, as a general matter, that the media don't have access," he said, adding that the media gave access to a wider audience.

Does that mean he favors cameras in the High Court, which some argue is simply extending the right to a public trial to a larger public?

Roberts didn't say yes or no. While pointing out that his "new best friend," former Senator and co-star of Law & Order Fred Thompson, says that cameras are "nothing to be afraid of" he said he "does not have a set view."

Thompson was appointed by the administration to shepherd Roberts through the process.