I asked this question at law.stackexchange.com where it was closed as opinion-based.

From the New York Times:

[...] Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, barred journalists from The New York Times and several other news organizations from attending his daily briefing, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps.

[...] Reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and The Huffington Post were among those shut out of the briefing.

Have First Amendment rights been violated?

Nothing from Cornell Law's page seems to indicate that not admitting certain parties to a press conference is in violation of the First Amendment.

  • Asking if it is an"attack" is opinion. It could be argued as such by pundits. There are also counter arguments.
    – user1530
    Feb 25, 2017 at 17:09
  • This question is far closer to being a valid Law.SE question than a valid Politics.SE question. "Does the first amendment right to free press include a right of journalism?" is an objectively answerable question on Law. Maybe edit your question there rather than try to export it?
    – Brythan
    Feb 25, 2017 at 17:40
  • @Brythan They specifically told me to bring it here. (But then re-opened it). I'm not trying to raise a political debate: I'm asking a concise question: were 1A rights violated or not? Certainly this question is on-topic at one of the two sites. Feb 25, 2017 at 17:44
  • 3
    Ah, yes, good improvement. It's a much more answerable question now (though...alas, any definitive answer would have to come from a court decision...)
    – user1530
    Feb 25, 2017 at 17:47
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    @Venture2099 The question on the Law.SE has since been reopened. It has a short answer, but its claims are contested in the comments. I think the answer here sums up the state of things as best as we can without a new court decision: content-based bans (by the executive branch) are generally deemed violations of the first amendment, but whether that applies here or not is uncertain. Feb 26, 2017 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


Law Newz argues that it might be:

“It’s unconstitutional when President Trump has said he doesn’t like CNN and the New York Times and then excludes them from a press conference. It’s a content-based ban and the government generally cannot enact laws or restrictions that punish speech based or restrict public access based on content. Courts have held that a government press conference is a public forum generally open to the media, and any restrictions must be based on reasons other than content,” First Amendment attorney and LawNewz columnist Susan Seager said.
The courts have weighed in on this issue on many occasions before, and it doesn’t bode well for the Trump administration.
Courts have said that it is permitted for government officials to enforce other kinds of restrictions to journalists. For example, it would be okay for Trump to do a million exclusive interviews with Fox News, and never give one to ABC. However, when it comes to press conferences and briefings that are supposed to be open to the media, the rules are different.

They cite Sherrill v. Knight and Times-Picayune Publishing Corp. v. Lee as precedent.

  • Note that the briefing from which some were barred, wasn't a public event. So I doubt this precedent applies.
    – Sjoerd
    Feb 25, 2017 at 16:37
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    @Sjoerd The administration saying "this wasn't public" does not (necessarily) exempt them from "long standing legal precedent says it is to be treated as public for purposes such as content-based bans against the press." You usually don't get to duck laws and precedent by just asserting that you get to do so. We'd have to see how this pans out in court, assuming it goes that way, though. Feb 25, 2017 at 18:19
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    @Sjoerd I would think that it was a public event as much as any press briefing is. The precedent may still not apply (it's about press passes, not a one-time event, although Seager seems to think it may apply). The better question is probably why CNN, NYT, etc were excluded. It doesn't look like coincident, but the administration could argue that it was. Either way, it doesn't seem that this will go to court, so we will never get a definitive answer, but - unlike many claims of first amendment violation - it seems that there is at least some case to be made here.
    – tim
    Feb 25, 2017 at 18:22
  • It was a public event. The Press Secretary simply moved the location and then issued a ban on the press regimes considered hostile. Feb 26, 2017 at 12:41

Have First Amendment rights been violated?

a few things:

  1. is banning a media person a violation of their first amendment right?

the first amendment only says that the government cannot abridging the right to free speech. it doesn't guarantee that individual's right to hear what the government has to say.

  1. is banning a media corporation a violation of that corporation's first amendment right?

well, we have been taught repeatedly that a corporation is not a person so those news corporations aren't protected individually.

the press is, however.

  1. can the government bar a media person because the government doesn't like what s/he has to say?

I think that's a violation of that person's 1st amendment right.

But to make that argument, you have to prove that they are barred for their speeches, not for other reasons - like space limitations, or random draws of luck, ...

again, you have to prove the intent, and you have to prove that corporations are people. both are tall orders.

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    Isn't the "press" a special organization in the US? You know, the ones who control the governing body and are hence "higher" than the body itself? - At least that's the case in modern democracy other than the US?
    – paul23
    Feb 25, 2017 at 16:47
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    I think this answer is mixing some concepts.
    – user1530
    Feb 25, 2017 at 17:10
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    > You know, the ones who control the governing body and are hence "higher" than the body itself? that's actually a very profound observation. there is a recent cartoon where the press told trump that he better listens to the press. and the trump said "no". the press then said "look how egotistical the president is!". I think it captured your sentiment really well.
    – dannyf
    Feb 25, 2017 at 17:12
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    It's not a tall order to prove corporations are people at all. It is already enschrined in law and beyond any shadow of a doubt. Its one of the cornerstones of the rise of the corporation and limited liability. No one has EVER taught corporations are not people. In law, they are. Feb 26, 2017 at 12:43

It is unlikely that a reporter could ever successfully sue the President of the United States, or any other public figure, to force that official to answer their questions, or to admit them to press conferences.

Remember that any kind of principle that you are trying to establish here would apply not just to the President but to every high elected official, such as all the senators.

The First Ammendment reads that the "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...". The 1st Ammendment is a limitation on CONGRESS, not the Executive office.

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    This is completely incorrect. The First Amendment has been enforced against all three branches of both federal and state governments, notwithstanding the narrow wording you identify.
    – Kevin
    Oct 2, 2021 at 3:29
  • No, cases in which the executive has been sued on First Ammendment grounds invariably involve the executive enforcing some law and the law is held to be unconstitutional. Courts cannot find behavior to be unconstitutional, only laws. If you think you have some specific counterexample, then cite it, don't just give some empty opinion. Oct 2, 2021 at 3:48
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    Trump was sued for blocking people on Twitter, on First Amendment grounds, and lost.
    – Kevin
    Oct 2, 2021 at 4:02
  • @Kevin That case was mooted before it reached the Supreme Court so the question remains open. However, I will grant you that two courts did decide it was a 1st Ammendment issue. Oct 2, 2021 at 9:35
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    1. All courts in the United States are empowered to exercise the judicial power of the United States, as per the vesting clause of Article III, so it's only "open" insofar as the Supreme Court could later overturn it. But the Supreme Court can also overturn its own rulings, so this is a meaningless technicality. 2. There is a large body of case law arising under 42 USC 1983 which regularly applies the First Amendment directly to executive branch actions. This is well-established law in the United States, and not the subject of serious debate.
    – Kevin
    Oct 3, 2021 at 0:56

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