Supreme Court Passes on Case Covering Security Reviews of Government Tell-all Book U.S. Supreme Court building. (Getty Images)
By Jay Clemons | Monday, 23 May 2022 05:43 PM
The Supreme Court declined to hear a case Monday covering security reviews of tell-all books from former government officials, with the authors claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated.
The high-court move upholds a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision from last year that sided with the government in preserving its right to comprehensively review the work of former security officials who land book deals, upon leaving the intelligence community.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Knight First Amendment Institute, which represented the five former national security officials, described a slow-paced system in which ex-NATSEC officials with book deals were consigned to waiting for months for a publication go-ahead, while significant redactions of their manuscripts took place.
"The government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security secrets, but this system sweeps too broadly, fails to limit the discretion of government censors, and suppresses political speech that is vital to informing public debate," said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, in a statement.
What prompted this case?
Former Office of the Director of National Security official Timothy Edgar — for whom this case bears his name — had apparently been asked to redact "material largely relating to events that took place after he had left government," the ACLU recently wrote.
And citing the ACLU, another plaintiff was asked to remove material "seemingly intended only to protect the government from embarrassment."
However, the 4th Circuit Court determined the government was eminently reasonable in requesting thorough vetting of supposed tell-all books.
"This prepublication review process may be analogized to a funnel," Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for the 4th Circuit.
"At the top end, a broad scope of materials intended for publication is called for and entered into the review process — materials that might contain classified or sensitive information. And at the bottom end, only a narrow scope of materials is selected for redaction — materials that actually contain classified or sensitive information."
Prior to Monday's SCOTUS declaration, two recent cases involving former NATSEC officials authoring books garnered similar fame.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper proceeded with the publication of his Trump-era memoir, after reaching a post-lawsuit agreement with the Department of Defense.
However, former Trump national security adviser John Bolton had the release of his book delayed many times, due to an editorial- or classified-info-based power struggle with the Trump White House.
Bolton's time with the Trump White House lasted only 17 months.
The difference between the two books? Esper's memoir apparently didn't contain any classified material.
"The government's prepublication review systems, in their current form, are broken. They subject millions of former government employees to censorship without any binding timelines or clear standards for review, opening the door to silencing speech because it is critical of the government — not because it holds any national security risk," said ACLU staff attorney Vera Eidelman in a statement.
"Now that the Supreme Court has refused to take corrective action, Congress should step in."