I’m always pleased when judges actually uphold our constitutional values. After all, it happens so rarely these days!

Last week, Rep. Steven Chabot (R-OH) banned ordinary citizens from bringing cameras into a town hall meeting — even having police confiscate cameras from citizens who dared to violate this rule. Bizarrely, Chabot still allowed reporters to bring in cameras and record the event.

Coincidentally, just four days after Chabot took this extraordinary measure to prevent embarrassing clips of him from appearing on YouTube, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit handed down an opinion saying citizens have a right to film police engaged in their official duties. The court’s reasoning, however, has very clear implications for Chabot’s camera ban:

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’” […]

The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press. […] The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

Chabot might take some small comfort in the fact that he does not reside in the First Circuit — Ohio is part of the much more conservative Sixth Circuit — but Chabot should not expect the right-leaning judges on his home circuit court to bail him out. As the First Circuit notes, at least three other appeals courts and numerous trial courts agree with their holding that government officials cannot simply ban cameras.

2 thoughts on “Tsk

  1. At a debate a few years ago between Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and his challenger, Tom Wyka (D), that was set up and run by the League of Women Voters, Frelinghuysen declared that he would only participate if no cameras were allowed. I had an audio recording device with a built-in mic and was able to record the entire thing with the device under my shirt (I had a front-row seat). Some guy sat next to me and recorded a good bit on his laptop before Rodney spotted it and demanded it go away. He had a right old-fashioned hissy fit over it. After the debate, I spoke with Rodney and told him I thought it was a wonderful, civil debate and that it was a pleasure to watch it conducted in that fashion. He smiled and was pleasant. I told him I thought his constituents ought to be able to see the parts that were recorded because it would be good for everyone in his district to see that debate. He turned his back on me and hissy-fitted away as fast as he could go.

  2. Every now and then sunlight does manage to disinfect something. Big article in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer that cameras were allowed in the latest Chabot town hall. As I remarked in a comment on the first post that included this video (about a week ago, around the time of Susie’s hospitalization), this most recent town hall took place in the very Republican part of town that Chabot hails from. Still, according to the paper, lots of protesters were present and there was a good amount of booing.

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