Jenner & Block

Berman Addresses First Amendment Rights for Citizens and Media

Jenner & Block Partner Debbie L. Berman and an esteemed group of judges and journalists on Thursday led the panel discussion “First Amendment Forum” at Loyola University Chicago.  The forum was sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, the Chicago Press Association, the International Press Club of Chicago, and Loyola, and specifically highlighted recent restrictions on the civil liberties in the United States since September 11, 2001.

The panelists agreed that though the current wartime climate has still endangered the civil liberties usually considered protected by the First Amendment, the national media have become more aggressive in trying to protect these freedoms.  One of the flashpoints for this increased concern was the special investigation conducted by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald regarding the alleged leaking of CIA operatives to the media during the time of war.

The panelists discussed whether it is time to call for a “federal shield law,” which would grant journalists similar powers of privilege that are provided to other professions.  Ms. Berman suggested that in a time of heightened security and heightened restrictions of freedoms often taken for granted in this country, new legislation is not the easy cure-all that it may sound to be.

“For instance, Freedom of Information Act requests don’t simply grant a reporter access to whatever secret proceedings about which he feels the public has a right to know,” said Ms. Berman, a member of Jenner & Block’s Media and First Amendment Practice and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Trade Secrets and Unfair Competition Practice.  “But in the past twelve months we’ve seen that the courts have been allowed to carry out their end of the checks and balances that have been architected in this country’s system of judicial review with great care, and with great forethought.”

The Hon. William J. Bauer moderated the panel.  Besides Ms. Berman, the panel included Debra Caldwell-Stone, of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom to Read Foundation; Judge Michael J. Howlett, currently a visiting professor of law at Loyola University Chicago; Bernard Judge, Editor and Publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and Chicago Lawyer magazine; Thomas Roeser of the Chicago Tribune; and Edwin C. Yohnka, Director of Communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.