ACLU Urges Court to Deny Trump Effort to Block Bolton Book

June 19, 2020 9:00 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today urged a federal court to deny President Trump’s “outlandish” and unconstitutional effort to block the publication of John Bolton’s book.

“John Bolton’s book has already been excerpted in most major papers, read aloud on national television, and delivered to bookstores worldwide. The cat is not simply out of the bag, it has left the country,” said Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Center for Democracy. “If the powers the government is claiming were not so dangerous, this lawsuit would be a farce.”

The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute’s friend-of-the-court brief notes that the Supreme Court in 1971 rejected a similar attempt by the Nixon administration to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers. The court then set a high bar, requiring the government to demonstrate that blocking publication would serve the intended purpose of preventing direct and irreparable harm to national security. In the case of John Bolton’s book, the organizations argue in their brief the book has been widely disseminated and a nationwide injunction would serve no purpose.

Even if the book had not already been widely distributed, the organizations argue that it is highly doubtful that the government could meet the high burden required to obtain an injunction of this kind. After a nearly five-month pre-publication review, career national security officials confirmed that the book contained no classified information, and the president’s dislike of John Bolton is no secret.

The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute are currently challenging the constitutionality of the pre-publication review system in court. The organizations argue the system gives officials far too much discretion to suppress speech the public has a right to hear, and to make unexplained censorship decisions influenced by individuals’ viewpoints and access to power.

The amicus brief is here:

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