The Free Press and National Security: Renewing the Case for a Federal Shield Law

26 Pages Posted: 22 May 2018

See all articles by Alan Wehbé

Alan Wehbé

United States Department of Justice; U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General's Corps

Date Written: May 1, 2018


Freedom of the press is a cherished freedom enshrined in the First Amendment and upheld in myriad contexts. However, under the prevailing case law and without a federal shield law, the executive branch may be able to “annex the journalistic profession as an investigative arm of government” to reveal its‘confidential’ sources as aid to prosecution. This would serve to chill the freedom of the press and conflicts with the spirit of the First Amendment. In many cases, courts have failed to extend the common law to such protection. The legislative branch should step in to make such protection clear. For example, in the field of national security, where the stakes are so high, the Government utilizes federal laws, such as the Espionage Act, to prosecute so state shield laws provide inconsistent and insufficient protection against federal prosecution. The case for a federal shield law is heightened in the matters of national security, which is different and where, arguably, the stakes are higher. Based upon the aforementioned discussion, this Article reinvigorates the argument in favor of a federal reporter’s shield law, specifically implemented as an evidentiary privilege under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Keywords: national security, shield law, free press, first amendment

Suggested Citation

Wehbé, Alan, The Free Press and National Security: Renewing the Case for a Federal Shield Law (May 1, 2018). First Amendment Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2018, Available at SSRN:

Alan Wehbé (Contact Author)

United States Department of Justice

Washington, DC
United States

U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General's Corps

United States

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