House Judiciary Chairman Puts Brakes on Media Shield Bill

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) has put the brakes on legislation offered by conservative Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) that shields reporters from having to reveal their confidential sources to federal authorities. 

Pence’s Free Flow of Information Act (HR 3323) has attracted 42 co-sponsors in the House, including Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), but Sensenbrenner won’t hold a hearing unless the bill has “little to no opposition,” his spokesman told Human Events. 

The biggest obstacle to Pence’s bill is the Department of Justice, which criticized the first draft of the legislation during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing July 20.

Pence and the bill’s other sponsors—Rep. Rick Boucher (D.-Va.) and Senators Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.) and Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.)—added a national security exception to the legislation in hopes of winning support from DOJ.  It has yet to reveal its opinion on the revised version, spokesman John Nowacki told Human Events.

The legislation has taken on added significance with the July 6 jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for her refusal to testify before a federal grand jury about her sources relating to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

“This bill,” Pence said, “is about protecting the free flow of information and the public’s right to know.” 

Pence told Human Events he’s pushing for hearings before the House Judiciary Committee upon return from the August recess. But Sensenbrenner’s spokesman, Jeff Lungren, said that’s unlikely to happen unless the qualms about the bill are resolved.

“Chairman Sensenbrenner has articulated to Mr. Pence that any legislation on this issue must have little to no opposition in order to be considered,” Lungren said in an e-mail to Human Events. “Until that happens, I don’t believe the committee will act.” 

Asked to clarify, Lungren responded, “Any opposition, whether it’s from DOJ, the Senate, House leadership, wherever.”

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said Sensenbrenner’s demands are “unreasonable.” 

“We’ve been trying to engage the Justice Department all summer, and it has been very difficult,” Dalglish said.  “We have been trying to meet their concerns and address their concerns. The idea that it has to have absolutely no opposition—that’s just unreasonable.”