WASHINGTON: Members of Congress and media-rights groups are calling on the federal court system to establish media guidelines for judges following an incident earlier this month involving Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia, long known for discouraging press coverage of his public remarks, was partway through a speech at a high school in Mississippi on April 7 when a deputy US marshal forced two reporters to erase their recordings of the event.
Scalia has since apologized for the incident, but critics are demanding that action be taken to prevent future confusion between federal judges and the media.
"To ensure such incidents do not occur again, we encourage you to establish clear guidelines for judges setting the public or private nature of their remarks and the appropriate remedial steps that may be taken when the judges' requests are not honored," wrote Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) last week in a letter to the administrative office of the US Courts.
Unlike many state judges, federal judges are bound by no rules or written principles regarding their interaction with the press.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg declined to comment on whether such guidelines were being considered, saying only that media issues were left up to individual judges and the groups that invite them to speak.
Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said such attention to media issues within the judicial branch was long overdue. In a letter to Scalia last week, Cochran expressed dismay at his position stated in his apology to allow print reporters - but not broadcast media - the right to record future remarks.
One recipient of Scalia's letter of apology, Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told PRWeek that she supported the senators' call for establishing guidelines but wasn't optimistic they would ever materialize.
"If Sen. Leahy thinks it's a good idea, then I trust his judgment," she said. "But I just don't think it's going to happen. Any rules they did establish would just say there are no rules against speaking to the public."