Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Scalia Speaks (On the Record?) 

After last week's fracas involving a deputy federal marshall seizing and deleting digital recordings of a speech (on the Constitution) given by Justice Antonin Scalia at a high school in Mississippi, there were qualifications, justifications, statements of outrage, and bland statements from Supreme Court spokespeople that it is up to the Justice to set guidelines for press coverage, and that the voice recording restriction should have been announced beforehand. Commentary and coverage here, here, and here.

Yesterday it was announced that Justice Scalia has now apologized for the seizures. I'm still a bit muddled, though.

In the published letter referencing the apologies to the reporters (if that's not confusing enough), he states that the actions were not at his direction, but that he is "revising [his] policy to permit recording for use of the print media." He also hopes that this will prevent misquotes, as he said came from that Hattiesburg speech (although he didn't correct the misquote, just pointed it out). He also expressed his hope that "electronic media" will continue to extend the "courtesy" of respecting his "First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so."

If he has to revise his policy to allow for recording by print media journalists, wouldn't that mean that his policy previously banned such recordings? Would not the deputy marshall therefore have been acting in accordance with that policy, essentially at his direction? Does a Supreme Court Justice, as a very public official, have the right to ban selected segments of the media from recording? Could video or audio recordings be made by all journalists as long as they promised not to display them, but only use the recordings for verification purposes, as the print media do? What really is the difference in today's world between "print" and "electronic" media? What better way to be on the record accurately than with a recording? Perhaps that is the point, though.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:37 AM