Court Battles

Supreme Court denies appeal by Wisconsin conservative think tank over press access

The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal from a Wisconsin-based conservative think tank that sued the state’s Democratic governor for denying the group access to press events.

The court’s rejection of the appeal, which was issued without comment, brings an end to the MacIver Institute’s unsuccessful years-long First Amendment suit against Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D). 

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had urged the justices to take up the group’s appeal.

The case arose in 2019 after Evers did not invite members of the MacIver Institute to a background briefing on budgetary matters that was attended by some two dozen members of the press who cover the governor.

The MacIver Institute filed a federal lawsuit alleging the group had been denied press access due to their conservative viewpoint, in violation of the First Amendment. 

Evers countered that the law permits reasonable restrictions on access to official events, and that his office’s denial of press credentials to the think tank was not done because of the group’s viewpoint.

In March 2020, a federal judge in Wisconsin sided with Evers, finding that the governor had “reasonably concluded that MacIver is not a bona fide news organization.”

“MacIver publicly brands itself as a think tank committed to ideological principles. It engages in policy-driven political advocacy, including advocating for specific initiatives and policy approaches,” wrote U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson, an Obama appointee. “It has a ‘news’ tab on its website, but it does not maintain a news-gathering organization separate from its overall ideological mission.”

The Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court ruling in April, prompting the think tank’s ultimately unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Attorneys for Evers’ office and MacIver Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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