Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A bad day for the Bill of Rights

While yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on a patient's right to sue HMOs (nil, natch) got the big play on page A1 of the New York Times, it was the piece on the jump page that sent a real chill: Supreme Court Upholds State Law Requiring Citizens to Identify Themselves to Police. What next? National identity cards? Where are your papers?

In her customarily thorough way, Linda Greenhouse's piece on page A12 (the A1 piece on the HMO decision was hers, as well) detailed the case of a Nevada man who had been arrested and fined under a state statute for refusing to give his name to a police officer. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy opined, "answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances."

One can only imagine what a court in the next Bush Administration might find similarly "insignificant". A request for a lock of hair? (The better to see your DNA with, my dear.) A request that one open one's door without a warrant, so long as the officer stays on his/her side of the threshold and takes a long look from there?

It may not be quite time to kiss good-bye your Fourth and Fifth Amendment Rights, but soon they'll be small enough to fit in the officer's pocket. It was a 5-4 decision. Natch.

While the Fourth and the Fifth found themselves at sixes and sevens, the First was taking some body blows in Rhode Island. There, a judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld an earlier court ruling that held a television reporter in contempt of court for refusing to reveal his sources in a story that used a tape that was under a protective order. The order banned the attorneys, investigators or defendants working on the corruption case of then Mayor Buddy Cianci from disseminating tapes connected to the case. (The tape showed Cianci accepting an envelope of cash from an undercover FBI agent.) The trouble is, the reporter, Jim Taricani of WJAR, is neither an attorney, investigator or defendent in the case. He's a journalist.

The court essentially ruled that there's no such thing as journalistic privilege where sources are concerned. Think the news is cooked now? Get ready for something downright pasty.

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