NYT's James Risen Takes His Case to the Supreme Court

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 15 2014 11:41 AM

NYT's James Risen Takes His Case to the Supreme Court

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Reporter James Risen of the New York Times and author of the book, 'State of War' speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at NBC studios January 8, 2006 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

I'm a little late to this, but it's still worth flagging: New York Times reporter James Risen has officially taken his legal fight to make sure his confidential sources stay that way to the Supreme Court. Risen announced on Monday that he has formally petitioned the high court to hear his case. (You can read his legal brief here.)

For those in need of a refresher: Risen has waged a lengthy battle to avoid testifying in the trial of a former CIA agent charged with leaking classified intelligence about a secret CIA mission to interfere with Iran's quest for nuclear weapons (a topic that Risen wrote a book about in 2006). Last year, a federal appeals court ruled against Risen's effort to avoid taking the stand. Here's how Risen summed up what's at stake in an email to the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan:

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This case has been transformed into a potential constitutional showdown over the First Amendment and the role of the press in the United States because of the Obama Administration’s aggressive use of the powers of the government to try to rein in independent national security reporting. It was the Obama Administration that sought to turn this case into a basic constitutional fight over whether a reporter’s privilege exists. It is the Obama Administration that wants to use this case and others like it to intimidate reporters and whistle blowers. But I am appealing to the Supreme Court because it is too dangerous to allow the government to conduct national security policy completely in the dark.

It's unclear if the Supreme Court will take up the case as Risen has requested—regardless a decision is unlikely to come before late-February. In the meantime, according to Politico, Sterling's case has been put on hold. If the high court declines to take the case or if it rules against Risen, the reporter could end up in jail if he continues to refuse to testify.

Slate's legal eagles will no doubt have much more analysis on Risen's SCOTUS bid in the days to come. Meanwhile, as Sullivan aptly put in Monday: "Those who care about the crucial role of the free press in our democracy should say a prayer, or raise a glass, or do whatever they can to wish Mr. Risen well."

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.