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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined newsrooms throughout the country to help protect the First Amendment right to record police activity.
The organizations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify for all jurisdictions that the constitutional right to record public officials in public areas is “clearly established” under a qualified immunity analysis.
“It should be clear beyond cavil by now that first-hand accounts of police conduct are essential to the public conversation about police accountability,” according to an Aug. 13 amicus brief filed in the case Frasier v. Evans.
“The contours of the right to document police conduct, have been ‘clear’ for the better part of a century,” amici wrote.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press drafted the brief on behalf of NEFAC and more than 40 media groups.
The case involves a civil rights lawsuit brought by a man who was questioned, searched and threatened by Denver, Colo., police officers after he filmed them repeatedly punching an arrestee in the face. The Tenth Circuit determined that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the First Amendment right to record police was not one of the “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
As amici in the case, NEFAC and the media groups are making two main arguments:
(1) The right the Tenth Circuit declined to recognize is of exceptional importance to the press and public, and its exercise depends critically on the deterrent effect of a meaningful damages remedy.
(2) All circuits are in clear need of guidance about the proper approach to the qualified-immunity analysis when the right to gather information — as opposed to the right to speak or publish that information — is at issue.
NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.
The coalition is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. Learn more about how NEFAC is protecting the free press and open government in New England.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.