Tuesday, May 04, 2010

William McGurn: First Amendment a Right, Not a Privilege

In today's Wall Street Journal, William McGurn reflects on the implications for bloggers of the Apple v Gizmodo iPhone Case:
Steve Simpson, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, puts it this way: "Once the government gets in the business of deciding who can speak based on identity, it will then necessarily be involved in deciding what viewpoints get heard."

The classic view of the First Amendment holds all Americans are entitled to its rights by virtue of citizenship. These days, alas, too many journalists and politicians assume that a free press should mean special privileges for a designated class. The further we travel in this direction, the more the government will end up deciding which Americans qualify and which do not.

It's not just Mr. Chen. Two weeks ago in New Jersey, a state appeals court ruled that a hockey mom who blogs is not a journalist for the purposes of protecting her sources. The woman was being sued for derogatory comments she posted on a message board about a company that supplies software for the porn industry. At the federal level, meanwhile, a "shield law" protecting journalists from revealing their sources remains bogged down in Congress as legislators are forced to define who is legitimately a journalist and who is not.
IMHO, "shield laws" are a bad idea--undemocratic, unconstitutional, and unfair...unlike the First Amendment.