Appeals court rejects congressman's First Amendment phone leak defense

[JURIST] The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled [PDF opinion] Tuesday that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) [official website] had no First Amendment right to turn over an illegally taped telephone call to reporters. In 1996, McDermott leaked a recorded telephone conversation in which several Republican lawmakers discussed ethics allegations against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) [personal website] to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, which published stories on the case in January 1997. The court found his actions particularly problematic because McDermott was serving on the House Ethics Committee [official website] at the time. Judge David B. Sentelle dissented from the decision, saying that it would prevent the public from learning important information about the ethics of its elected representatives. McDermott had argued that his actions were protected by the First Amendment [JURIST report].

McDermott was previously found liable [PDF opinion; JURIST report] of violating 18 USC 2511(1)(c) [statute text] by a three-judge panel, but in June the court granted his petition for an en banc rehearing in front of the entire nine-judge panel. Lawyers for ABC, NBC, CBS, the Associated Press, TIME, Newsweek, and the Washington Post among others filed an amicus curiae brief [PDF] on behalf of McDermott, arguing that the First Amendment protects him and that he should not incur liability for merely receiving tapes obtained by other parties. AP has more.



 

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