As unlikely as it sounds, Republicans and Democrats are putting their differences aside to support the most important press freedom legislation in modern times — the PRESS Act.
Former IRS contractor Charles Littlejohn received the maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment on Monday, after pleading guilty to leaking Donald Trump’s returns to The New York Times. Littlejohn also leaked a tranche of ultrawealthy Americans’ tax documents to ProPublica. It’s sadly ironic that Littlejohn is being harshly punished for exposing billionaire tax evasion while billionaire tax evaders themselves continue to be afforded leniency by the judiciary.
The PRESS Act -– which passed the House last week with no opposition — is the most important press freedom legislation in modern history. It would finally put an end to retaliatory surveillance of journalists who embarrass officials, as well as court orders requiring journalists to choose between burning their sources and risking jail time. As it heads to the Senate, we answer some of the common questions we’ve seen asked about the act. Topics range from the substance and scope of the bill to what you can do to help get it through the Senate.
The House of Representatives passed the PRESS Act by unanimous consent on Jan. 18, 2024. The act is a bipartisan reporter’s shield bill that would protect journalists from being forced to name their sources in federal court and would stop the federal government from spying on journalists through their technology providers. It’s the strongest shield bill we’ve ever seen — and also the one with the best chance of becoming law. Now it’s up to the Senate to finish the job.
Our U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented 11 prior restraints against journalists in 2023, the most since it started tracking them in 2017. The Supreme Court has called prior restraints — or government orders not to publish information — the “most serious” First Amendment violation. They are almost never constitutional. And yet, courts keep entering prior restraints with little regard for the law, leaving journalists censored while often slow-moving appellate processes play out.
It’s been more than seven months since the May 2023 FBI raid of Florida journalist Tim Burke’s home newsroom, after Burke found and publicized Fox News interview outtakes where rapper Ye made antisemitic remarks. Yet the government still hasn’t explained the basis for the raid or returned all of Burke’s seized equipment and information.