Justice Department employees at an event with Attorney General Eric Holder (left) and Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information—especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources.”
—Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy
When John Lindsay was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1958, the Republican lawyer from Manhattan arrived on Capitol Hill as a man on a mission. “Often alone on the House floor,” recalled Nat Hentoff, “Lindsay wielded the Bill of Rights against its enemies.”
Lindsay was absolutely determined to reinvigorate the bill of rights, especially the First Amendment. After a decade of “red scares” and McCarthyism, he spoke up for dissidents. He hailed the right to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances. And he championed a free press as the essential underpinning of a free society.
Lindsay developed a reputation for disregarding party lines. He was a Republican, but if the Republican president was wrong, he would not allow party ties to temper his objections. And if the members of his caucus disregarded civil liberties, they were more likely to get an earful from Lindsay than from the Democrats.
Around the time that Lindsay was elected mayor of New York, California Democrat Don Edwards, a former FBI agent, arrived to take up the fight. For three decades, Edwards checked and balanced not just Republicans but Democrats who failed to recognize the rights of citizens and the essential role of a watchdog press. When his Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives went after reporter Daniel Schorr for revealing details of an intelligence committee report, Edwards ripped his colleagues. “The freedom of the press is very much involved here,” the congressman declared. “By bringing it up this way and naming Mr. Schorr, there is a very chilling effect on a reporter’s right to receive classified information.”
We remember Lindsay and Edwards because of the standard they set. They understood that the defense of the Bill of Rights in general, and freedom of the press in particular, must never be compromised by partisanship.
That’s why it was so very important when, after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had obtained the phone records of Associated Press journalists, both Patrick Leahy and Bob Goodlatte spoke up.
Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, come from different political parties, different ideological perspectives and different experiences.