Merrick Garland announces most progressive Department of Justice policy in decades

Merrick Garland announces most progressive Department of Justice policy in decades

On Wednesday, hidden under the fog of traditional media outlets worrying about Democratic candidate John Fetterman’s post-stroke recovery, while accepting Mehmet Oz’s career of quackery, President Biden’s Department of Justice made a very important announcement. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland formally codified the FBI policy banning the use of subpoenas, search warrants, and other legal measures against news journalists in most circumstances. This is a codification and expansion of rules the U.S. Attorney General announced as a temporary step last year.

When Garland first took over U.S. Attorney General duties, one of his first orders of business, as has been most agencies’ directors in the Biden administration, was to fix some of the abuses the disgraced Trump administration participated in. These included secretly collecting Washington Post reporters’ phone records. But let’s be clear, the Obama administration was also guilty of going after government whistleblowers who spoke to the press. Before President Obama, there was the second Bush administration with its use of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as an excuse to go after everybody’s freedoms, including the press’. And it is the fact that it has gone on for so long that makes Wednesday’s decision that much more important and progressive.

In his statement on the matter, Garland said, “These regulations recognize the crucial role that a free and independent press plays in our democracy. Because freedom of the press requires that members of the news media have the freedom to investigate and report the news, the new regulations are intended to provide enhanced protection to members of the news media from certain law enforcement tools and actions that might unreasonably impair news gathering.”

Attorney General Garland makes this move after openly supporting the importance of codifying protections for a free and independent press in a democratic society. In June, speaking at a press conference, Garland told reporters he would continue working to end the Trump-era practice of punishing and threatening free speech, but that he believed that Congress needed to create legislation that would allow such protections to endure. “I personally will support working with Congress to develop legislation that would make protections for obtaining the press’ records part of the legislation.” That legislation has still yet to materialize, but this is an important step in the right direction.

In a memo sent to all DOJ employees, Garland also promised that the new guidelines would be followed up: The “Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations will provide comprehensive training across the Department regarding the new policy’s substance, standards, approval levels, and consultation requirements,” he wrote. What this move does is create more meaningful steps for federal law enforcement to take and consider when they try to get private information from the press. It also expands the definition of what is protected to include reporters being able to freely do their job of actually investigating matters of national importance. According to The New York Times, the expansion of Garland’s new policy came after working with various news organizations to discuss what is both reasonable and most important to a free press.

Those conversations led to several adjustments about potentially critical issues, like how “news gathering” is defined. According to participants, the Justice Department originally intended to define it in a way that was limited to the passive receipt of government secrets. But the final version now covers the act of pursuing information.

The regulation defines “news gathering” as “the process by which a member of the news media collects, pursues, or obtains information or records for purposes of producing content intended for public dissemination,” including “classified information” from confidential sources.

No surprisingly, all of those right-wing and libertarian pretend-left-wing types who hide behind the intellectually vacuous “First Amendment warriors” banner seem to have forgotten to cheer this very clear win for the First Amendment. I guess they were too busy salivating over the chance to make a ton more money licking a new billionaire’s feet?

I can’t even calculate how much money I’d pay to read the Slack chat of Twitter employees today. Definitely would pay extra to read the thoughts of “Content Moderators.”

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 26, 2022

The 2022 midterms are just around the corner, and you sent us a ton of fantastic questions for this week’s episode of The Downballot. Among the many topics we cover: which states are likely to report results slowly—and how will those results change over time; the House districts that look like key bellwethers for how the night might go, and which might offer surprises; why and how Democrats make the hard decisions on which races to triage; the top legislative chambers to keep an eye on; and plenty more!

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