Court grapples with White House’s right to suspend press passes

Source: Politico | March 23, 2020 | Josh Gerstein

One judge calls the Trump administration’s stance “astounding.”

A Justice Department lawyer urged a federal appeals court Monday to give President Donald Trump’s White House broad leeway to pull journalists’ press passes for conduct the president or his aides deem unprofessional — even though opinions seem to differ widely about how to define that term in the Trump era.

The case argued before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stems from an altercation in the Rose Garden last July between Playboy White House reporter Brian Karem and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka following a summit for social media influencers.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Aug. 16, 2019, suspended Karem’s so-called hard pass for 30 days, saying he acted unprofessionally and disturbed “decorum” by insulting guests and challenging Gorka to a fight. In September, a federal judge restored Karem’s pass in a preliminary ruling that said the journalist did not receive sufficient notice of the rules governing his conduct.

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Judge Nina Pillard seemed most squarely in Karem’s corner, lambasting Burnham for arguing that the reporter wasn’t entitled to prior notice of what kinds of behavior could lead to suspension of his credentials.

“Mr. Karem had a press pass. And the notion that the standard for taking it away when the only basis was speech by Mr. Karem and the whole area is obviously you know a First Amendment-protected area, that the authority there would not have to be announced in advance, I just find that astounding,” said Pillard, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “I mean: Of course, it has to be announced in advance.”

Pillard also said she found it curious that there was no indication other White House reporters had ever had their passes pulled for “unprofessional” behavior.

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