The Society of Professional Journalists has joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Hoosier State Press Association in an amicus brief in support of David Paul Hammer (Hammer vs. Ashcroft). The case, which deals with access to information, is challenging the Bureau of Prisons’ policy banning face-to-face interviews with federal death row inmates.
David Paul Hammer, who is awaiting his death sentence in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., filed a lawsuit in federal court attacking the Bureau of Prisons’ policy, which he said infringed upon his First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment for the government, but the 7th Circuit agreed to hear Hammer’s appeal.
The Reporters Committee brief argues that the in-person interview ban has been implemented for impermissible reasons. The Bureau of Prisons enacted the policy after Ed Bradley’s interview with Timothy McVeigh on 60 Minutes, which sparked outrage from various high-ranking government officials — including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft — who criticized the media for giving McVeigh “a platform.” The Bureau of Prisons’ stance now, however, is that the restrictions had nothing to do with criticism it received, but were put in place for “security reasons.”
The Reporters Committee, the Hoosier State Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists are asking the 7th Circuit to reject the Bureau of Prisons’ justifications and allow face-to-face interviews of death row inmates. In a peripheral issue, the brief also argues that another Bureau of Prisons’ restriction that bans inmates from discussing certain issues related to their fellow inmates similarly violates First Amendment rights. Thus, the brief asks the court to find that the Bureau of Prisons’ media policy for inmates represents a broad restriction on both the quality and quantity of information the media can obtain from death-row inmates.