The United States Supreme Court is the ultimate authority in upholding the Constitution. We entrust these judges with keeping this country a democracy in which the people are allowed basic freedoms-- speech, expression and freedom of the press.
How ironic then that one of those justices, Antonin Scalia, would order a reporter's tape recording of a speech he gave in Mississippi to be seized and destroyed.
During Scalia's speech about the Constitution at a Christian high school in Hattiesburg, a federal marshal demanded that a reporter for the Associated Press erase a recording of the justice's comments. According to the New York Times, other reporters were ordered to do the same.
Since that time, Scalia and the Federal Marshal's Office have been criticized for what First Amendment experts are calling "a legally questionable action".
It is said that Justice Scalia has his own policy of forbidding tape recordings during speeches on private property, which generally creates no legal problems. According to reporters at the speech, no one announced that taping was not permitted. Seizing and destroying a reporter's notes or tapes under those conditions not only violates the First Amendment but the Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The dictates of Scalia and the actions of the marshals is reminiscent of countries like the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, not America.
Beyond the constitutionality of his actions, one has to wonder why Scalia does not permit taping and what did he say in Mississippi that cannot be heard by the country he serves?
At the Roundup, we often use tape recorders as a way to safeguard against inadvertently misquoting someone. If the subject of an article is taped, it is also much harder for them to claim they were misquoted. It can be a double-edged sword, especially for the loose-lipped. Nonetheless, it is a valuable tool for the reporter.
The thought that an officer of the law and even more astounding, a Supreme Court Justice, could confiscate and destroy a journalist's records and notes of a public official's comments is frightening. Scalia is entrusted with upholding the very right he denied those members of the press.
After 9/11, we as a country were forced to be somewhat flexible about our rights for the sake of national security. This incident, however, was an absolute travesty that involved a Supreme Court Justice who desperately needs a refresher course on the Constitution. Terrorism is a definite threat, but it's also a dangerous thing when someone in Scalia's position vacillates on the validity of the Constitution.
Elected leaders need to lead
Councilor Robert Henley's guest commentary last week responded to an editorial in the April 2 edition of the Payson Roundup.
In that editorial, we pointed out that the Webber Fire was close enough to provide a lesson and an opportunity -- to commit whatever resources necessary to alleviate the fire danger in our forests.
In asking the town council and county leaders to take the lead on this issue, we did not mean to imply that either has been lax to date. Rather, our intent was to use the Webber Fire to point out the clear and present danger that we face this fire season, and probably for many more to come. While the council has made important commitments to forest health, much more can and must be done -- by all of us.
It seems logical that the Rim country should look to its two governing bodies for leadership. That doesn't necessarily mean throwing money at the problem. It means creating and enforcing ordinances that will make residents address their own properties. It means providing a forum for an ongoing discussion about forest health. It means pursuing grants and other sources of funding to address an issue that is overwhelming in its scope.
We appreciate the efforts of our town and county leaders and look to them for continued leadership.