You know how when private companies like Paypal drop “news” organizations like Infowars, and Alex Jones and conservatives start yelling about their First Amendment rights, and we all have to remind everyone that conduct between the press and a private entity does not fall under the umbrella of the First Amendment because the First Amendment only applies to governmental action?
When Donald Trump and the White House pulled Jim Acosta’s hard pass, that did fall under the First Amendment. It’s exactly on point: It’s the press versus the government, and the government sought to prohibit free speech from an entity that reports critically on the President.
CNN and Jim Acosta are now suing Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, John Kelly, Bill Shine, and the Secret Service, seeking to have Acosta’s hard pass reinstated.
“We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass to be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process. While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers elected officials.”
First Amendment lawyers also believe this is a strong case. From The Hollywood Reporter:
The following day, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan said that CNN should sue the White House, a prospect that legendary First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams endorsed in a Sunday interview on the network. “I think it’s a really strong lawsuit,” he said. “I can understand CNN being reluctant to sue because the president keeps saying CNN is the enemy of me, and CNN might have reluctance to have a lawsuit titled ‘CNN vs. Donald Trump.’ That said, yes, I think they should sue.”
That opinion is shared by many others.
I think it’s a strong case, but am not sure, however, that it’s a slam dunk. Trump didn’t reject CNN; he rejected a specific reporter, and he claimed that it was because Acosta assaulted a White House intern (he did not). If the case actually goes to Court, it’ll be interesting to see if Acosta’s interaction with the intern will be the decisive factor (if around in the comments, JS may be able to speak to this better than I). Further, while I’m certain that the “press” has a First Amendment right to cover the President, I’m not positive that it has a right to have a specific reporter cover White House press briefings. In other words, while I think there’s a high probability of winning, if CNN loses, it could be a devastating blow to the free press, as it might allow the White House to pick-and-choose which reporters from news organizations they’ll allow to cover them (this seems unlikely, but given the current composition of the courts, I rule nothing out).
If Acosta wins, it’ll also be interesting to see if the White House decides against holding further press briefings out of protest (they are not obligated to give them). That, actually, might end up being the best-case scenario, given how useless press briefings have become under the Trump Administration.