WASHINGTON: Chief justice nominee John Roberts this week provided the Senate Judiciary Committee with a glimpse of his views on the extent to which government should be able to restrict media access in public spaces.On the one hand, Roberts said the Constitution's framers "appreciated the benefits that would come from public awareness. That's an important principle." But in responding to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) during the first week of his confirmation hearings, Roberts said there might exist "some perfectly valid reasons for excluding media," although he did not list any.
The Bush administration has come under attack from the news media in recent weeks after it sought to bar media access in certain areas of New Orleans and, allegedly, to prevent the press from photographing corpses. Federal officials later backed away from their policy after CNN filed a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency's media restrictions.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia caused a stir in April 2004 when a deputy US marshal forced two reporters to erase their recordings of a speech by the associate justice in Mississippi. Although he apologized for the incident, Scalia said he would prevent the broadcast media from recording future speeches.
In responding to Leahy's questions, Roberts said that distinguishing between public right and media rights can prove difficult.
"If it's a situation in which the public is being given access, you can't discriminate against the media and say, as a general matter, that the media don't have access, because their access rights, of course, correspond with those of the public," Roberts said.