Last week, Julian Assange was indicted on 17 violations of the Espionage Act, a federal law that prohibits interference with United States military operations and support for enemies in times of war. In 2010, Assange published secret government documents on his website, Wikileaks, and now faces federal prosecution. Scholars have noted that the Espionage Act may face First Amendment challenges during Assange’s case as the legislation can be used to prosecute journalists who publish material deemed secret by the U.S. government.
On a similar note, San Francisco police recently ransacked the home and office of Brian Carmody, a freelance journalist. Carmody was in the midst of investigating the death of the city’s chief public defender before police, armed with a warrant, searched his property for the source of an information leak; Carmody had obtained a copy of the police report detailing the public defender’s death and had sold the report to local news stations. When asked about the search, Joel Simon, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, noted that “[j]ournalists feel that they are under threat. Their sources are under threat. Their profession is under threat.”
Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum has curated a new exhibit entitled “Front Line: Editorial Cartoonists and the First Amendment.” The exhibit’s collection of political cartoons ranges from Revolutionary War era depictions of the British monarchy to recent lampoons of President Donald Trump. One of the exhibits curators described the collection as such: “[w]e focused on editorial cartoonists and the First Amendment partly because American editorial cartoonists are the only ones in the world whose work is protected by an amendment to the federal constitution….”
In a recent major ruling, the United States Supreme Court rejected an Alaskan man’s claim that he was arrested for exercising his First Amendment rights. The Court reasoned that law enforcement had probable cause to arrest him in the first place, thus essentially creating a new bright-line rule: if police have probable cause to arrest someone, that person will generally be unable to bring a successful First Amendment lawsuit challenging the arrest as retaliatory for exercising free speech.