Court Sides with CNN

D.C. Federal District Judge Timothy J. Kelly Friday ordered the White House to immediately reinstate White House senior correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass, according to CNN.

The judge said the White House needed a process or standard for removing a pass, otherwise it violates the First Amendment. So, the ball is now in the White House's court, said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, but it was clearly a victory in the near term.

CNN called it a great day for journalism and the First Amendment. Acosta thanked his colleagues, adding "let's go back to work."

The judge did not say the White House could not come up with a process for revoking hard passes, but only that the White House had failed to do so and thus denied Acosta and CNN due process.

CNN had argued that the President, press secretary Sarah Sanders, chief of staff John Kelly and others are violating Jim Acosta's First Amendment rights every day he is banned from the White House and grounds, and sued the President and others.

The suit was filed Tuesday (Nov. 13). Both CNN and Acosta were cited as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The senior White House correspondent's "hard pass" was pulled Nov. 7 week after he briefly refused to give up the mic while trying to get the President to answer some tough questions about immigration and the Russia investigation.

The White House initially said Acosta had manhandled an intern trying to reclaim the mic, but has since focused on the argument that he was being disruptive.

In a filing with the court, the Justice Department had argued that "the President and his staff have absolute discretion over which journalists they grant interviews to, as well as over which journalists they acknowledge at press events," a point the Administration also made in a hearing on the suit earlier this week.

Related: Trump Re-Election Campaign Uses CNN Suit to Rally Base

Acosta had signaled to the court that he thought he was just using his hard pass to ask hard questions. He described his press conference conduct to the court in a brief as "firmly but politely [persisting] in asking my two questions and trying to get responses."

Most other news outlets agree and stepped up to say the White House was wrong in revoking the pass.

“Today’s ruling upholds fundamental tenets of our Constitution and has an effect on all journalists, not just Jim Acosta," said Radio-Television News Directors Association executive director Dan Shelley. "If the White House’s draconian revocation of Acosta’s credentials had not been reversed, it would have had a chilling consequence for all journalists, giving license to other federal and local elected and public officials to curtail access to journalists whose questions and methods they don’t like."“We are cautiously optimistic that Judge Kelly, a Trump appointee to the federal bench, will ultimately rule that Acosta’s credentials should be permanently returned to him,” Shelley added.

While the judge's decision was limited to how the White House revoked the pass, not whether it could, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), was hailing it as a big victory with precedential implications. “Today, a major precedent was set for the future of a free press," it said. "It is a win for one reporter, but most importantly a win for the Constitution and the enduring freedoms it grants us all. ICAP was proud to play a part alongside the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,” in supporting the suit.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.