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Congressman seeks Supreme Court ruling on illegally recorded tape case

[JURIST] Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash) [official website] announced Friday he will ask the US Supreme Court [official website] to rule on whether he had a First Amendment right to turn over an illegally taped telephone call conversation to the media that involved House Republican leaders. In 1996, McDermott leaked a recorded telephone conversation in which several Republican lawmakers discussed ethics allegations against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) [personal website] to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, which published stories on the case in January 1997. The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled [PDF opinion] that McDermott had no First Amendment right to turn over the taped telephone call to reporters. The court found his actions particularly problematic because McDermott was serving on the House Ethics Committee [official website] at the time. McDermott Friday criticized the court's ruling as an infringement of his First Amendment rights, and said that "the protections afforded all Americans by the First Amendment have been placed on a very slippery slope by this (appeals court) decision."

McDermott was previously found liable [PDF opinion; JURIST report] of violating 18 USC 2511(1)(c) [text] by a three-judge panel, but in June the court granted his petition for an en banc rehearing in front of the entire nine-judge panel. Lawyers for ABC, NBC, CBS, the Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, and the Washington Post among others filed an amicus curiae brief [PDF] on behalf of McDermott, arguing that the First Amendment protects him and that he should not incur liability for merely receiving tapes obtained by other parties. AP has more.

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