Today, on behalf of PEN America, Protect Democracy filed an amicus brief in federal district court in support of journalist Brian Karem. Mr. Karem has sued President Trump and the White House Press Secretary for revoking the “hard pass” that permits him access to White House grounds in retaliation for coverage that was perceived as unfavorable to the President. Mr. Karem’s complaint alleges in part that the White House’s decision is based on “unconstitutionally vague standards that serve only to chill First Amendment activity”—the type of behavior reflected in the Trump administration’s broader, unconstitutional censorship-and-retaliation campaign against the press.
PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for the interests of writers, including Mr. Karem—who is one of its members—has filed its own First Amendment lawsuit against the President to fight this broader scheme. Mr. Karem’s situation is similar to other journalists covering the White House who have been punished for their editorial decisions: a clear warning to the entire White House press corps not to cover the Trump Administration critically. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia should restore Mr. Karem’s hard pass immediately, to prevent this latest unconstitutional act from furthering the President’s ongoing scheme of censorship.
The amicus brief is available here.
Kristy Parker, Counsel at Protect Democracy, one of the organizations representing PEN America, issued the following statement:
“When the President uses the powers of his office to threaten and retaliate against journalists, he violates the First Amendment. What the White House did by revoking Brian Karem’s press pass to punish him for coverage they don’t like is part of an ongoing scheme by this President to chill and censor press criticism. The courts must act to stop this attack on the right to dissent and to hold the President to his oath of office, which requires him to defend press freedom, not attack it.”
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement:
“There President Trump goes again, using the prerogatives of government to silence and punish journalists who irritate the White House with their reporting. The First Amendment prohibits the misuse of government power to exact retaliation against a free press. Revoking Karem’s credentials is just a salvo in the president’s campaign to silence criticism, investigations, any coverage that paints him in a negative light. The federal courts must step in to vindicate the First Amendment and affirm that it does not allow the means of government to be used for retribution against the press.”
Protect Democracy, the Yale Law School Media Freedom of Information and Access Clinic, and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing PEN America, a leading organization of writers and literary professionals, in a lawsuit against President Trump for violating the First Amendment rights of PEN America and its members through his threats to use – and his actual use – of government power to punish the speech of those he perceives as critics in the media. Although Mr. Karem’s lawsuit is separate from PEN’s own legal action, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Mr. Karem is a member of PEN.
In accordance with the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of speech, President Trump can express his own views and criticize journalists and media organizations, but he cannot issue credible threats to punish the media for their coverage or actually deploy the levers of government power to retaliate against the media for their coverage. As PEN’s amended complaint lays out, the president has in at least five situations used or threatened to use the regulatory and enforcement powers of government to punish the speech of journalists – actions that violate the First Amendment’s protection of the free press.
We have asked the Court for a declaratory judgment – a ruling that the president’s use of government power to punish the press violates the First Amendment – and to enter an injunction to stop the president from directing government agencies to retaliate against journalists for their speech.
To learn more about the case, visit https://protectdemocracy.org/pen-america-v-trump.