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Time to vote on shield law for journalists

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2009

One month ago, Senate sponsors of a federal shield law for journalists reached a breakthrough compromise with the Obama administration that satisfies the government's concerns over safeguarding national security yet allows reporters to protect confidential news sources.

Essentially, it provides a "balancing test" that lets a federal court quash subpoenas demanding testimony or information if the judge decides that the public interest outweighs the need to find the source of a leak.

No protection is offered for reporters required to disclose the identity of terrorism suspects. In all criminal cases, the burden would be on reporters to show why the public interest should prevail.

For the news media, the protections in this version are weaker than those in a bill approved by the House, but the compromise was agreed to in hopes that the Senate Judiciary Committee would finally move the bill to the floor.

No such luck. Despite months of hearings and votes, some members, principally Republicans, continue to filibuster in the committee. Two weeks ago, the chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., expressed his frustration by calling on the bill's sponsors - Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. - to take the bill directly to the floor if the stalling continues.

This is an exceptional procedure, but in this case it may be the only way to get the job done. On Thursday, the committee will try yet again to win a commitment to limit future amendments in the hope of being able to schedule a final vote.

This should be the last attempt. Having exhausted all reasonable arguments, opponents should vote up or down on the bill.

Barring that, Sens. Schumer and Specter should take it directly to the floor of the Senate, where its chances of passage may be better.



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