PEN AMERICA SETTLES LANDMARK FIRST AMENDMENT LAWSUIT WITH U.S. GOVERNMENT; PRECEDENT SHIELDS REPORTERS FROM RETALIATION BY A SITTING PRESIDENT
Settlement agreement entered today affirms basis of PEN America’s challenge on behalf of its journalist Members who were threatened and retaliated against by President Trump.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PEN America—with counsel Protect Democracy, the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, and Davis Wright Tremaine—filed the landmark lawsuit in 2018 to stop then-President Trump’s campaign of retaliation against the press. The suit sought to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he disliked. In a 2020 ruling, a federal judge permitted PEN America’s First Amendment case to proceed and found that PEN America had standing to bring the lawsuit on behalf of its 7,500 Members, including journalist Jim Acosta of CNN whose press credentials were temporarily revoked by the Trump administration.
“Our first amendment rights are always worth defending,” said CNN’s Jim Acosta. “And it’s in all our interests as Americans that we maintain a strong and independent free press in the United States.”
According to the terms of the settlement agreement, the lawsuit is being dismissed without prejudice, upholding the March 24, 2020 ruling by Judge Lorna Schofield of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. At that time, Schofield wrote that PEN America plausibly contended that the government violated the First Amendment by threatening the White House press corps, particularly Acosta, over its coverage of the president, and by threatening to revoke the security clearances of former government officials who spoke out against the president in the press.
“This case broke new ground, and there were those who doubted whether we would be able to challenge the White House on the basis of statements and actions by a sitting president to threaten those whose coverage he disliked. This agreement demonstrates that when writers and journalists mobilize, we can and will take on the powerful who seek to pick and choose which stories get told,” said PEN America’s Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. free expression programs at the organization. “We’re thankful for all those who rallied to this cause, and know that we are sending a clear signal to future leaders to be wary of infringing on the First Amendment rights of the press.”
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