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Justice Scalia Bans Media Coverage From Free Speech Ceremony

BY Admin  March 19, 2003 at 12:00 PM EDT

The City Club invited Scalia to accept its Citadel of Free Speech Award in a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Club president James Foster said the Supreme Court justice would only appear if television and radio organizations were not permitted to cover the event.

“The City Club usually tapes speakers for later broadcast on public television, but Scalia insisted on banning television and radio coverage,” Foster told the Associated Press.

“I might wish it were otherwise, but that was one of the criteria that he had for acceptance,” Foster said.

The group said it chose Scalia for the award because he has “consistently, across the board, had opinions or led the charge in support of free speech,” Foster said.

The club had given the free speech award in 1988 to former Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) for his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.

Television reporters were able to watch Scalia accept the award, but the 67-year-old justice did not field any questions from reporters.

Scalia’s request — and the club’s decision to honor it — provoked outrage from several news outlets, including C-SPAN, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association, a group representing the electronic news media.

“How free is speech if there are limits to its distribution?,” C-SPAN Vice President and Executive Producer Terry Murphy wrote in a letter to the City Club’s president.

The ban on broadcast media “begs disbelief and seems to be in conflict with the award itself,” Murphy wrote.

RTNDA president Barbara Cochran also protested the City Club’s decision to block the media.

“The irony of excluding journalists from an event designed to celebrate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech is obvious to all,” Cochran wrote in a letter to Foster, released to the press Wednesday.

Scalia’s request to block news coverage is not unusual or unique for Supreme Court justices.

The Supreme Court now prohibits cameras and recording devices from the chamber, Kathleen Arberg, spokeswoman for the court, told the AP.

Earlier this week, Scalia made a similar request to John Carroll University, where he spoke Tuesday night.

His speech, titled “Catholicism and Justice,” Scalia pointed out that government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution.

“The Constitution just sets minimums,” Scalia said. “Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires.”

Although reporters and photographers attended the speech in the university’s gymnasium, the only video camera present belonged to the college’s television station.