Editorial: Uphold shield for sources | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Editorial: Uphold shield for sources

While America awaits potential challenges to Roe v. Wade with a newly aligned Supreme Court, another drama involving the First Amendment will probably come much sooner.

This week three reporters from The Associated Press, New York Times and Los Angeles Times asked the Supreme Court to stop an order by a circuit court judge to reveal their sources.

If justices accept it, The AP’s Gina Holland wrote, the case sets the stage for a landmark free-speech ruling at a time reporters are under increasing pressure to break source confidentially pledges – or risk jail time and huge fines.

The case, Drogin v. Lee, an appeal by the reporters’ lawyer states “The issues here goes to the heart of the press’s function in a democracy.”

The reporters refused to reveal their sources in a story about a scientist who in 1999 was suspected of spying while working at a nuclear laboratory in New Mexico. Wen Ho Lee was put in solitary confinement for nine months but was not charged with espionage. Originally, there were 59 counts of espionage filed against him. He was released after pleading guilty of one count of mishandling computer files.

According to The AP, Lee wants the reporters’ sources for a civil lawsuit against the government, which he contends improperly disclosed personal information about him in violation of a federal privacy law. Justices could use the case to clarify how courts should deal with subpoena requests and decide if journalists are protected by the First Amendment in keeping sources private.

Journalists sometimes need to use anonymous sources in order to get a story. If those sources know the court will order their identity to be revealed, they certainly will be less likely to come clean about some governmental wrongdoing.

Whittling away at the First Amendment is wrong. We sincerely hope the Supreme Court will hear the case and overrule last fall’s district court ruling. Much of the freedom of the press is a stake.

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