February 1, 2012 by David K. Sutton
House GOP: We Got Your First Amendment Right Here
House Republicans, apparently unaware of the First Amendment, requested Capitol Hill police arrest a documentary film crew during a hearing on natural gas procurement. Taken into custody was Josh Fox – director of the documentary Gasland – and his crew.
The arrests left some Democrats stunned.
“I was chair of the Subcommittee for four years, and we frequently had people show up the day of a hearing to film,” Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost. “We asked for their name, but they were told if they would not disrupt the hearing, they were free to record. A couple of times staff said, ‘You’re getting in the way, don’t stand there,’ but other than that, I do not ever recall anything like this. We certainly never turned anyone away for not providing 24 hours’ notice.”
“It’s an outrageous violation of the First Amendment,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. “Here we’ve got an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, and it’s an important subject and the subject that he did his prior film on for HBO. And they put him in handcuffs and hauled him out of there. This is stunning.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost, “I have served in the House of Representatives since 1992, and I had the privilege of chairing the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. In all that time, I cannot recall a chair of any committee or subcommittee having ever ordered the removal of a person who was filming a committee proceeding and not being disruptive, whether or not that person was accredited. It is a matter of routine that all sorts of people photograph and record our proceedings. Most of them are not accredited. I cannot recall anyone questioning their right to be there.”
I certainly don’t know all the details of what went down but I do believe elected officials should error on the side of free speech. I realize there needs to be procedure to keep hearings in order but our government needs to operate in the open and with nothing to hide. If the crew was not disrupting the process, at most they should have been asked to leave the room, not arrested, assuming they didn’t follow procedure. If they did follow procedure then I think Republicans have some questions to answer.