Senator meets with constituents, but tweets, photos barred

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 23, 2017 8:26 PM
Senator meets with constituents, but tweets, photos barred

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jack Reed met with constituents on Thursday to discuss their concerns in a federal courthouse room where no photos, video recording or tweeting were allowed because of court rules.

Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, met with about 100 people in the jury assembly room at the courthouse in Providence amid days of other congressional members being scolded at town halls in videos posted online. His staff said the room was chosen for the meeting, which wasn't a town hall, because of the big crowd it could accommodate and he didn't set the rules regarding what could be recorded or tweeted.

Shortly before the event began, Reed's staff and the U.S. marshal told reporters they couldn't take photos or video or tweet because of the court rules. The rules place restrictions on electronic devices in the courthouse, but tweeting, taking cellphone photos and operating TV cameras are sometimes allowed.

Reporters were allowed to record audio, but constituents couldn't take their phones in.

There has been heavy turnout and protests at meetings with other members of Congress this week. Videos of people angrily denouncing members of Congress, most of them Republicans, for supporting Republican President Donald Trump's agenda have been shared online.

Reed, who recently held an open town hall meeting in a school auditorium where all sorts of recording was permitted, said he was following the court's rules and chose the large room because it was convenient. He has an office in the building, but it can't accommodate such a big crowd.

Attendees had to show photo identification and go through a metal detector to get in. The discussion was mostly civil and even-toned although some attendees angrily yelled "no" when Reed said he'd meet with federal Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reed said he'll hold future meetings in places that allow recording devices.

"My preference would've been to have everybody here with whatever they wanted to bring," Reed said after the event.

Chief Judge William Smith said the courthouse has security protocols that bar the public from carrying in electronic devices and court officials believed those should be followed for Reed's event.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union took issue with how the rules were applied.

"We don't think there is a legitimate basis for preventing tweeting at a meeting that is completely unrelated to judicial functions," said Steven Brown, the chapter's executive director.

Reed's spokesman, Chip Unruh, said Reed makes himself accessible and has no problem with people recording his events but under courthouse rules only audio recording was allowed on Thursday.

"We bent over backward to try to accommodate the press," he said. "I'm sorry the courthouse has rules and Senator Reed doesn't want to bigfoot those rules."

Reed and other political leaders plan to take part in an event Saturday at Rhode Island College to rally against Republicans' promises to repeal and replace Democratic former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.