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Appeals Court Declines Rehearing of Journalist in CIA Leak Case
On Tuesday, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to hear an appeal by James Risen, reporter for NY Times, against a previous court order that asks him to testify against a source.
The 13-1 decision means the closely watched case may now make its way to the Supreme Court as the issues both for and against Risen’s stand are important for democracy. The case has been held important both for national security, as well as for the freedom of press, and where both have to draw the lines in asserting their interests.
In July, a three-judge panel had ordered Mr. Risen to testify in the trial of CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Risen appealed, and received a 13-1 rejection of his petition. However, the sole voice of dissent that of Judge Roger L. Gregory, seems like the sole voice of reason, somehow in a panel strangled by rules and divorced from reality.
While the judges rejecting Risen’s appeal did not explain their reasons, Gregory observed in his written dissent that for “public opinion to serve as a meaningful check on governmental power, the press must be free to report to the people the government’s use (or misuse) of that power.”
Gregory also commented, “some reporters, including the one in this case, may be imprisoned for failing to reveal their sources, even though reporters seek only to shed light on the workings of our government in the name of its citizens.”
In the July ruling against Risen, the judges had observed that reporters cannot claim protection of the First Amendment if they are asked to testify against their sources of unauthorized leaks of government secrets.
Such a stand, of course, totally handicaps the media from learning or exposing government wrongdoings, as no source would be coming forward under such circumstances to inform the public.