- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has settled yet another dispute it inherited from the previous administration — and this one marks a win for journalists covering the White House.
PEN America sued then-President Donald Trump in 2018 for retaliating against and threatening journalists whose coverage he viewed as “hostile,” arguing that it impeded the First Amendment by hanging “a sword of Damocles over the heads of countless writers, journalists, and media entities.” The complaint was filed just a few weeks before the White House revoked CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials, which also sparked a suit from the network.
In partially denying the Trump DOJ’s motion to dismiss PEN America’s suit, U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in March 2020 ruled that Trump would have to face claims that he violated the First Amendment by revoking press badges and security clearances.
On Thursday, PEN America and its counsel from advocacy organization Protect Democracy announced it had reached a settlement with the new administration that upholds Schofield’s ruling, which gave it standing to sue over threats and retaliation against journalists.
“Let’s hope that history remembers former President Trump as unique among his peers in abusing his office to bully members of the press,” said Protect Democracy’s Kristy Parker in a Thursday statement. “But there’s still a toxic anti-media streak in this country that Trump’s authoritarian behavior has fueled. We’d be naive to think that no future political candidates would consider emulating him, which is why this case was such a crucial marker. Would-be imitators now know that this anti-First Amendment behavior will be challenged and stand a strong chance of being held to account.”
Added PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, “While a president has First Amendment rights, he or she does not have license to use the authority of the office to menace critical journalists or punish their coverage. This result makes clear that future such abuses of power can be held to account in court. We are grateful that the government has agreed that this important precedent will stand without further challenge, upholding the crucial role of a free press as a cornerstone of democracy.”
In the waning hours of Trump’s presidency, the DOJ asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate what it described as a “harmful” decision in a different First Amendment fight — one that bars the president from blocking Twitter users based on their political beliefs. Biden’s administration hasn’t made any formal announcements on that front, but this settlement could indicate his DOJ will drop that fight too.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day