Constitutional priorities | VailDaily.com

Constitutional priorities

Don Rogers

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.There it is, short and sweet, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Now what is it that a majority of the state Supreme Court and District Judge Terry Ruckriegle do not understand by placing a simple-enough rape case over the rather farther reaching consequences of abridging the hallowed and constitutional tenet of prior restraint? That is, presuming to tell the news media what it can and cannot publish prior to publication.Have they forgotten the Pentagon Papers? That issue concerned national security, or at least the government’s argument to the U.S. Supreme Court that The New York Times and Washington Post should not be allowed to print the secret study of the U.S. military’s growing presence in Vietnam because of national security concerns. The court on July 1, 1971, ruled that the government had no right to prior restraint of the press to print the study or articles citing the study.So now an otherwise fairly typical rape case, aside from a celebrity’s name, is more important than national security or the Constitution itself? Huh? With all due respect, the rape case against even the great Kobe Bryant is just not that significant by comparison. To recap, a court clerk mistakenly e-mailed the transcripts from a private court hearing on the case to seven media organizations. The judge ordered them not to print the transcripts, or quote from them. The state high court, in a 4-3 decision, narrowly sided with the local judge, with sharp dissent by the minority that sees the larger issue perhaps more clearly. There indeed is a slippery slope when it comes to government – including judges – presuming to tell the news media ahead of time what they may or may not factually report. It’s a pretty big error, frankly, one the U.S. Supreme Court ought to rectify.Ironically enough, the court decision does not affect the Vail Daily’s decision not to print the transcripts, whatever judges may rule. As the local paper, read by 90 percent of the jury pool in the Vail Valley, we recognize a responsibility to respect the intent of the court hearings held out of public view.In other words, we respect the judge’s wishes, if not his orders. Our point is that this is our decision, not his.