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Scalia Apologizes for Seizure of Recordings


New York Times
April 13, 2004

Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court has apologized to two Mississippi reporters who were required to erase recordings of a speech he gave at a high school there on Wednesday.

The reporters, for The Associated Press and a local newspaper, had been told by a deputy federal marshal to destroy the recordings at the end of a half-hour speech by the justice at the Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg.

The marshal cited the justice's standing policy prohibiting the recording of his remarks. The policy had not been announced at the high school.

On Friday, Justice Scalia wrote the reporters to apologize, but his letters had not yet arrived on Monday, the two news organizations said, and the Supreme Court declined to release them.

Justice Scalia referred to the apologies in a separate letter mailed on Friday to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which had protested the marshal's actions. The committee released the letter on Monday.

Calling the organization's concern "well justified," the justice wrote: "You are correct that the action was not taken at my direction. I was as upset as you were."

One of the reporters, Antoinette Konz of The Hattiesburg American, expressed appreciation for the apology. She said she was disturbed that her tape was confiscated. It was returned to her only after she promised to erase the justice's speech from it.

"I think it's very honorable of him," she said. "I accept his apology. I am still upset about the entire incident."

Justice Scalia said in the letter to the Reporters Committee that the controversy had caused him to revise his policy "so as to permit recording for use of the print media" to "promote accurate reporting." He suggested that he had been misquoted in some accounts as saying "people just don't revere" the Constitution "like they used to." But the letter did not set out his version of what he said, and a court spokesman declined to comment.

Justice Scalia indicated he would continue to ban the recording of his speeches by the broadcast press.

"The electronic media have in the past respected my First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so," he wrote, "and I am sure that courtesy will continue."

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, objected to that distinction in a letter to Justice Scalia yesterday. "There is no legal basis for such discrimination," she wrote. "To exclude television cameras and audio recording is the equivalent of taking away pencil and paper from print reporters."

Frank Fisher, Mississippi bureau chief for The Associated Press, said the apparent apology to its reporter, Denise Grones, represented progress. But he, too, noted discomfort at the varying treatment of the broadcast press.

"The First Amendment covers all of us," he said.

In his letter, Justice Scalia said he did not have the power to "direct security personnel not to confiscate recordings."

"Security personnel, both those of the institutions at which I speak, and the United States marshals, do not operate at my direction," he wrote, "but I shall certainly express that as my preference."

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