(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Jim Jordan (OH-04) introduced the Free Flow of Information Act of 2017 (H.R.4382), a bipartisan federal shield law that would protect the public’s right to know by safeguarding a free and independent press. The legislation would establish a federal statutory privilege that would protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and ensure that they can do their jobs without fear of imprisonment or intimidation.
The legislation was introduced this evening after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee earlier today, refused to commit to not jailing journalists for doing their jobs.
Although many states have shield laws or some sort of reporter’s privilege, no such protection exists at the federal level. Dozens of journalists have served jail time, including former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who served more than 80 days in jail for refusing to reveal a confidential source in 2005.
“The First Amendment provides for a free press, but that guarantee means nothing if reporters cannot protect whistleblowers and confidential sources, or if reporters have to live in fear of prosecution or jail time,” said Raskin. “When the press is unable to do its job, the American people – and our ability to function as a democracy – suffer. A free press is the people’s best friend and the tyrant’s worst enemy.”
“All of the rights protected in the First Amendment need to be defended,” said Jordan. “From the religious liberty in our churches, to the free speech of students on college campuses, to the ability of reporters to protect the confidentiality of their sources, these fundamental American freedoms must be strengthened and preserved.”
Raskin and Jordan’s proposal for a federal shield law is identical to a previous bipartisan bill (H.R. 2102), which passed the House with overwhelming support on a 398-21 vote. The 2007 legislation was championed and cosponsored by Vice President Mike Pence when he was a Congressman representing Indiana’s 6th District.
“Every day, we rely on the press to hold our government accountable, educate us about issues of public interest, and keep the American people informed,” Raskin continued. “Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ I’m with Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers. We need to make good on the constitutional promise of a free press—one that is shielded from threats of jail time and criminal prosecution for performing their critical work. It’s time to pass a federal shield law to protect the press, whose work is essential to protect strong democracy.”
Congressman Jamie Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Montgomery, Frederick, and Carroll counties. He is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, a Senior Democratic Whip, and Freshman Representative to the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee. He also serves on the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and the Committee on House Administration.