Milgram stands alone on journalist shield law

What do 42 state attorneys general, U.S. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and New Jersey's entire congressional delegation have in common?

Apparently, they all disagree with state Attorney General Anne Milgram on the Free Flow of Information Act, S. 2035, which would bring federal journalist "shield" law protections up to date with that of 49 other states plus the District of Columbia.

The legislation — which already passed by 398 to 21 in the House — would provide a check on government's power over the media by providing certain protections to journalists and their anonymous sources. The U.S.
Senate may consider the legislation when they return from summer recess.

The Justice Department is opposed to any kind of shield law, even though most of the current bill is modeled on its own guidelines. And Chicken Little Bush has vowed to veto the bill, claiming it "would produce immediate harm to national security and law enforcement." Is that really what he thinks 176 Republicans in the House voted for?

Beyond the niche hysteria from the president and his cronies, there is overwhelming support for the bill. A letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) encourages them to pass the measure, noting their experience with existing protections at the state level.

"As the states' chief legal officers, Attorneys General have had significant experience with the operation of these state-law privileges," the letter states. "That experience demonstrates that recognition of such a privilege does not unduly impair the task of law enforcement or unnecessarily interfere with the truth-seeking function of the courts."

The New Jersey Press Association has repeatedly asked Milgram to support the bill, but she has neither signed the letter nor otherwise expressed her support for the legislation.

The proposed law is not perfect, but it does seek to strike a balance by offering some protections to journalists, their anonymous sources and whistleblowers from overzealous judges and prosecutors, while providing exceptions for situations such as an "imminent threat to the national security."

Beyond the Bush administration and the Justice Department in particular, there is little real-world opposition to — and in fact strong, bipartisan support for — the legislation. Are there substantive reasons for why Milgram turned down an offer to support the bill or is this a purely political move, perhaps to not disrupt her close working relationship with U.S. Attorney Chris Christie?

Juan Melli is Politicker.com's associate editor. Milgram stands alone on journalist shield law