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Supreme Court Justice Criticized Over No Recording Policy, Federal Agent's Actions

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's longstanding policy of prohibiting audio and video recordings of his remarks came back to haunt him on April 7, 2004, when an over zealous Federal Deputy Marshall assigned to protect the justice ordered two journalists to erase recordings they were making of his speech to Mississippi high school students. The incident prompted outrage from local journalists and written apologies from Scalia.

As Scalia was delivering a lecture on the Constitution to students at the Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg, Deputy U.S. Marshall Melanie Rube noticed two journalists in the front row recording the speech. Rube confronted the two and, citing Scalia's constitutionally questionable policy, demanded they erase their recordings.

When Associated Press reporter Denise Crones refused, Rube confiscated her digital recorder. Rube erased the recording after the cowed Crones explained how to operate the machine. Rube then demanded Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinett Konz relinquish a cassette tape, which Rube erased and returned after the event.

The recordings were not meant for broadcast or publication. Print reporters simply make recordings to ensure the accuracy of their quotes, "and that's what I was doing that day," said Konz.

Protests from local journalists came quickly. "I find it very curious where a Supreme Court justice spends an significant amount of time talking about the Constitution, he seems to omit the part about freedom of the press," said the American's executive editor, Jon. Broadbooks. "What authority does the marshal service have to try to confiscate reporters' tape recorders?"

Scalia apologized to Drones and Konz for the incident but refuses to take responsibility. In an April 9 letter to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which also protested Rube's actions, Scalia wrote that "the action was not taken at my direction. I was as upset as you were." Scalia also made the ludicrous assertion that he was powerless to "direct security personnel not to confiscate recordings."

In light of the imbroglio, Scalia said he would change his policy "so as to permit recording for use of the print media" in order to ensure accurate reporting. Even so, Scalia implied that his ban on recordings by the broadcast media would remain in effect.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, decried the implicit unfairness of that distinction. "There is no legal basis for such discrimination," wrote Cochran in an April 12 letter to Scalia. "To exclude television cameras and audio recording is the equivalent of taking away pencil and paper from print reporters."

Frank Fisher, Mississippi bureau chief for the Associated Press said Scalia's apparent apology to Crones indicated progress, but he was still concerned about Scalia's discriminatory treatment of the broadcast press. "The First Amendment covers all of us," said Fisher.


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