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April 11, 2004 - You don't mess with Fat Tony.

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You don’t mess with Fat Tony.   This is, after all, America…   Well, it this case it was Mississippi, actually.



When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to high school students this week about the importance of protecting constitutional rights, he seems to have been being ironic.  He does have an odd sense of humor, and you don’t mess with him. 

See this:
Media access limited during Scalia's speeches
Justice: Constitution 'something extraordinary'
Antoinette Konz, The Hattiesburg American, Thursday, April 8, 2004

The bare bones story? 


While U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to high school students on Wednesday about the importance of protecting the rights provided by the Constitution, the recording devices of two reporters were confiscated by a federal marshal. 

"You may wonder what makes our Constitution so special.  I am here to persuade you that our Constitution is something extraordinary, something to revere," Scalia told students at Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg. 

"Our Constitution is not only what started this great nation," Scalia continued, "but is what continues to make us one great nation.  There is no other nation that can identify with those principles."

During Scalia's speech at the high school, U.S. Marshal Melanie Rube demanded that a reporter with The Associated Press erase a tape recording of the justice's remarks.  Rube also took a tape recording made by a reporter with the Hattiesburg American. 

Rube said Scalia had asked that his appearance not be recorded.  But there was no prior announcement that electronic recordings of Scalia's speech were prohibited.


Ah well, he may have had his reasons.  He’d been stung before. 

He did have to recuse himself from the Pledge of Allegiance case after publicly commenting on the lower court decision at a Knights of Columbus rally.  So, really, you can’t be too careful about what you say. 

In a follow-up item in the Washington Post we get these nuggets –


After Associated Press reporter Denise Grones balked, the marshal took her digital recorder and erased its contents -- after Grones explained how the machine worked.  The marshal also asked Hattiesburg American reporter Antoinette Konz to hand over a cassette tape and returned it, erased, after the event. 

"The seizure and destruction of a reporter's tape recordings is remarkable, and I think it would be difficult to find any law that would justify it," said Luther T.  Munford, a First Amendment expert at Phelps Dunbar, a law firm in Jackson. 

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press protested the seizure yesterday in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft.  The letter noted that the deputy's action appeared to violate a 1980 federal law prohibiting most seizures of journalists' resource materials.


Is this a big deal?  Is this 1980 law really that important? 

Maybe not.  Reports next time could just use shorthand and take notes.  If those are seized they can, after all, rely on their memories of what was said.  There are workarounds.  You cannot, after all, erase memories – except for EST, which, I suppose, Scalia could order in extraordinary cases. 

Scalia has, a number of times, made his speeches off-limits to any press coverage.  That’s the safest way to make public statements about the law and constitutional rights, after all.  No record – no tapes or notes or any paper trail at all. 

This does seem odd.  But maybe not.  The idea is that our leaders are busy people and don’t need to be pestered by the “little people” always second-guessing them. 

As Scalia commented when asked whether he would recuse himself from the Cheney matter – should Uncle Dick be forced to reveal just who he met with when he devised the nation’s energy policies? – given that Scalia had just spent a weekend duck hunting with Cheney on the tab of a major oil company – “Quack, Quack.”  That was Scalia’s two word response to the question.


I think that was a no.  He will not recuse himself. 

Scalia cast the swing votes that made George Bush president almost four years ago, another fellow who doesn’t like to be bothered with impertinent questions from nit-picking second-guessers.  You get the idea. 


Rick in Atlanta, who worked his way up through the Associated Press and was one of the founders of CNN added this:


Except for the fact that I'm glad I wasn't the reporter assigned to cover such a boring event, I actually wish I were that reporter.  I would have demanded the marshal get a warrant, which means they would never have gotten their hands on the device.  The "authorities" don't have that authority, and the reporters should not have surrendered the materials.


The proper (and, I think, legal) way to deal with a situation in which a "performer," whether they be SCOTUS justice or hip-hop singer, demands that no recordings be made during the performance, is to catch attendees coming in to the hall, and deny entry to anyone who refuses to play by the rules of the house.


The fact that this happened during a Scalia performance is precious.  AP should make a federal case out of it; then we'd get to see if the entire Supreme Court recuses itself, assuming it ever gets that high!  Now, that would be interesting!


Yep, that would be interesting.  Don’t hold your breath.  Scalia is now claiming everyone knows he doesn’t like being photographed or recorded.  That’s long been his policy too – no recordings, no photos.  Everyone should have known that.  The rules were implicit.


Why?  It’s just the way he is.  No deep, dark reason here.  He’s shy?


But you don’t mess with this guy.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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