Opinion

Judge’s Ruling Reduces First Amendment

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Posted: Apr 02, 2020 11:56 AM
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Judge’s Ruling Reduces First Amendment

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The Washington Post likes to say, “Democracy dies in darkness.” 

Actually, it’s dying in well-lit courtrooms. 

On Tuesday, federal Judge William Peterson sided with Gov. Tony Evers and denied the MacIver Institute’s motion for a temporary injunction against Evers and his PR team. 

The free-market think tank, which operates the MacIver News Service, last year sued Evers for violating its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The governor’s press team barred MacIver reporters from attending a budget briefing in February 2019 and blocked MacIver from the general media list. This, despite the fact that the MacIver Institute has been a credentialed member of the Capitol press corps for years.

But Peterson, judge for the U.S. District Court Western District, decided that the MacIver Institute is simply a think tank, not a news organization, with an “idealogical mission.”

“… MacIver has not demonstrated a separation between the ideological mission of the think tank and the news organization,” the ruling states. 

But what of the clearly left-leaning organizations allowed to attend the Democrats' briefings and are included on Evers’ media list? Well, Peterson asserts, The Progressive, The Capital Times, even The Devil’s Advocates far left radio show “are principally in the business of disseminating news.” 

And MacIver NEWS Service isn’t? The organization is devoted to covering state government, the budget and policy issues that impact the daily lives of its readers. As a former MacIver News Service journalist, I know firsthand the multitude of legislative committee meetings, floor sessions and political press conferences the news organization covers on a weekly basis. 

“Plain and simple, Judge Peterson just missed this,” said MacIver President Brett Healy. “Now more than ever, it is vital that the governor stop blocking MacIver and that all news sources have fair and equal access to information and briefings.” 

Indeed. Peterson’s ruling was followed by the announcement Wednesday that Gannett plans to implement furloughs for several Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters, including members of the Capitol Press Corps. Those reporters cover the Statehouse for Gannett newspapers — large and small — across the state. 

But this federal judge, following liberal and highly partisan Attorney General Josh Kaul’s bogus litmus test of what constitutes a news organization, insists, “Evers has reasonably concluded that MacIver is not a bona fide news organization.” 

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During Wednesday’s teleconference with Republican legislative leadership, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) heartily welcomed MacIver’s Bill Osmulski, also a plaintiff in the First Amendment lawsuit. 

“We’re always happy to have you at our press conferences, and the liberal side too,” Vos told Osmulski before the reporter asked his question. True enough, the Capital Times and the Wisconsin Examiner, another left-leaning publication, were on the press call. 

MacIver has 10 days to respond to Peterson’s ruling, effectively telling the judge why they think he’s wrong. If Peterson stands by his decision, the news organization could appeal the ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.