Appeals court denies rehearing in journalist case

AP News
Posted: Oct 16, 2013 2:54 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court will not reconsider a decision compelling a journalist to identify a source who disclosed details of a secret CIA operation.

The full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 13-1 Tuesday to reject reporter James Risen's petition for a rehearing. A divided three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in July that prosecutors can require Risen to divulge the name of his source when he testifies at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent charged with leaking classified information.

The appeals court's majority did not give any reason for denying Risen's petition. But Judge Roger Gregory, who voted for the rehearing, wrote that the case was "one of exceptional importance" dealing with a fundamental First Amendment question that has not been directly addressed by the Supreme Court or other federal appeals courts.

Gregory also wrote the dissenting opinion when the panel ruled in July, saying a reporter's ability to protect sources is crucial to the sort of free press envisioned by the nation's founders. He stressed the same point in his dissent Tuesday.

"An independent press is as indispensable to liberty as is an independent judiciary," he wrote. "For public opinion to serve as a meaningful check on governmental power, the press must be free to report to the people the government's use (or misuse) of that power."