Lawyers for Time Magazine’s Matt Cooper and the NYTimes’ Judy Miller appealed the reporters’ contempt order in the Plame case yesterday:
Federal appeals court judges suggested yesterday that reporters might be able to refuse to reveal the names of their confidential sources in selected criminal investigations but have no blanket protection against the responsibility to testify before a grand jury.
The three-judge panel weighed arguments yesterday in a press-freedom dispute that pits reporters’ ability to gather information about an increasingly tight-lipped government against the Justice Department’s right to require their testimony in its investigation of suspected leaks from the Bush administration.
At yesterday’s hearing, Judge David B. Sentelle grew visibly irritated as he repeatedly asked longtime First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to explain how Cooper and Miller’s circumstances differed from those of the Kentucky reporter [citing the 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, in which the Supreme Court concluded that a Kentucky reporter was required to identify people he saw manufacturing hashish because the government’s need to solve a crime outweighed his promise to confidential sources]. Why would the pair not have to answer questions about whether government sources committed a crime and illegally leaked information to them, asked Sentelle, a critic of the media.
“If there’s an answer to my question, I’d love to hear it. The question is as simple as it can be,” he warned Abrams. “I take it you don’t have [one] since you haven’t advanced it yet given three, four or five opportunities.”
Ugh. I hate that the repellent David Sentelle is involved in this case (hell, it’s disgusting to think that this man is still on the bench), but the point he makes is the same one many of us have been making all along. Cooper and Miller are witnesses to a crime, their profession does not exempt them from their civic and moral obligations to testify in this case.