Judge rules lawsuit alleging Trump threatened free press can move forward

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that some of the claims in a literary advocacy group’s lawsuit against President Trump over his threats to retaliate against critical media coverage can proceed. 

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield wrote in a 24-page opinion that PEN America had a “constitutional standing” to pursue claims for declaratory relief against Trump’s practice of “selectively barring access” to the White House press corps, including by “revoking or threatening to revoke press credentials due to hostility to the reporters’ speech.”

Schofield also ruled that the case could proceed on allegations that Trump revoked or threatened to revoke security clearances for government officials he dislikes. 

The court granted Trump’s motion to dismiss claims that he initiated government actions against certain media companies, threatened to revoke broadcast licenses and interfered in White House press access. 

Schofield noted that PEN America’s claims against Trump had merit, given that the White House has a history of barring press access and that it revoked CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s credentials in November 2018. Acosta’s press pass was later reinstated, though the development caused former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to release new guidelines for reporters. 

“The press secretary indeed e-mailed the entire press corps to inform them of new rules of conduct and to warn of further consequences, citing the incident involving Mr. Acosta,” Schofield noted. “These facts plausibly allege that a motivation for defendant’s actions is controlling and punishing speech he dislikes.”

Acosta’s credentials were temporarily stripped after a contentious exchange with the president at a press conference. A federal judge granted CNN’s request to restore the pass, ruling that Acosta and his employer were likely to succeed in arguments that their Fifth Amendment rights to due process were violated by the White House.

PEN America filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Trump in an attempt to gain an order declaring that Trump’s threats violated the First Amendment. The group also sought an injunction to block Trump from taking actions against journalists he doesn’t like. 

Schofield wrote on Tuesday that “issuing an injunction to the president would impede his discretionary authority in these realms, and more generally, risk improper judicial encroachment on the executive branch.”

The case will now move into the discovery phase, and PEN America will be allowed to obtain documents from the government to help substantiate its claims, the group said. 

“PEN America is profoundly grateful for the court’s timely decision,” the group’s president, Jennifer Egan, said in a statement. “Though we filed our lawsuit more than a year ago, the Trump administration’s punitive stance toward the press has continued unabated, with corrosive results for truth, fact, our democracy, and—most recently—public health.”

Tags Donald Trump Jim Acosta Sarah Huckabee sarah huckabee sanders

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