1st Amendment in court
Jana Winter, a reporter for FoxNews.com, wasn’t ordered to reveal her confidential sources during an Arapahoe County District Court hearing Wednesday. But the fact that Judge Carlos Samour Jr. didn’t dismiss the case outright is troubling for anyone concerned about the First Amendment.
Winter was one of many journalists covering the aftermath of the Aurora theater shootings last July, in which a dozen people were killed and 58 injured. She scored a coup when she learned from confidential sources that accused murderer James Holmes had mailed a notebook detailing his plans to kill people and crude drawings of murders to his University of Colorado psychiatrist shortly before the attack.
Holmes’ defense attorneys have demanded that Winter reveal her sources because, they say, those sources violated a gag order issued by the judge who was then in charge of the case.
But that isn’t sufficient grounds to demand that Winter identify her sources. Her work is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and Colorado’s Shield Law. Shield laws have been passed in 40 states because confidential sources can be critical in helping journalists obtain information — and report it to the public — that influential people want kept secret. Watergate is the most famous example.
A possible gag-order violation by others is no reason to punish Winter by sending her to jail for contempt of court, as she has said she is willing to do rather than identify her sources.
Moreover, it is not clear whether Holmes’ notebook can be used in his court case or that it wouldn’t have come out in the official record even without Winter’s reporting.
There is no justification for pursuing the case against Winter and further impinging on the First Amendment. Judge Samour should dismiss the case against her.