“A criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook.”
~ Judge Leonie Brinkema of the United State District Court in Alexandria, Va. explaining her July 29 order to quash a subpoena to New York Times Reporter James Risen the writer of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency.
The judge wrote that Risen was protected by a limited “reporter’s privilege” under the First Amendment. Although the testimony is relevant, Brinkema said the government could not establish a compelling reason for Risen’s testimony.
The First Amendment-based qualified reporter’s privilege to refuse to disclose confidential sources and other information obtained during the newsgathering process states that the court must balance the reporter’s need to protect a source against a prosecutor’s need to establish his case. In this case Brinkema said that the government could not prove that Risen’s testimony and notes were the only way to obtain information about Risen’s source for his 2006 book “State of War.”