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2 long-time friends discuss the First Amendment

  • Article by: PETE YOST
  • Associated Press
  • April 17, 2014 - 8:30 PM

WASHINGTON — The legality of government surveillance is likely to come before the Supreme Court someday, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg appear less than thrilled at the prospect.

Scalia thinks the judicial branch is the least qualified government branch to balance security and intrusion.

Scalia and Ginsburg, two long-time friends, aired their differing views of First Amendment rights Thursday night at the National Press Club, where moderator Marvin Kalb drew them gently into the subject of the National Security Agency, government secrecy and freedom of the press.

"I don't think we have a choice" about dealing with the surveillance issue, Ginsburg said. "We can't run away" from grappling with whether the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds.

The Supreme Court is the institution that is going to decide these "highly significant questions," Scalia said. "We know nothing about the degree of risk. The executive knows, Congress knows."

The discussion with the two justices took place in a week that saw The Washington Post win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.

Did the newspaper deserve the prize?

"I don't read the Post so I have no idea," Scalia said to laughter.

Is Snowden a traitor?

"That's not part of what I worry about," Scalia, said. That's a policy question, not a legal question, he added.

Ginsburg pointed out that such a question might ultimately come before the Supreme Court, placing any further discussion on the issue off-limits.

On another First Amendment issue, both justices expressed qualms about televising Supreme Court arguments.

"I think it's probably inevitable" and "there's so much pressure for it," Ginsburg said. But she was "very much concerned of misportraying" what is taking place.

"If you are televising a trial, everything is unfolding," she said, far different than a case on appeal, which is the unique province of oral argument.

Regarding televised arguments, Scalia said that when he first came to the court "I was for it."

"Those who want it say they want to educate the American people," Scalia said. "If I really thought" it would achieve that goal, he would favor televised debates.

But this, he said, is "dull stuff."

© 2014 Star Tribune