Supreme Court rejects appeal over press access in Wisconsin

Legal Solutions

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a conservative think tank over Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to exclude the group’s writers from press briefings.

The justices acted without comment Monday, leaving in place lower court rulings that said the decision is legal.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed the lawsuit in 2019 alleging that Evers, a Democrat, violated its staffers’ constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access.

Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, had joined in the institute’s bid for high-court review. Evers defeated Walker in 2018.

Last year, a federal judge rejected the group’s arguments, saying MacIver can still report on Evers without being invited to his press briefings or being on his email distribution list. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that ruling in April.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the ruling in favor of Evers allows censorship because it permits picking and choosing which reporters attend press events that have long been open to reporters but closed to the general public.

The appeals court ruled that Evers’ media-access criteria was reasonable and he was under no obligation to grant access for every news outlet to every news conference.

MacIver had argued that Evers was excluding its staffers and violating their free speech rights because they are conservatives. Evers said they were excluded because they are not principally a news gathering operation and they are not neutral.

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately return a message Monday seeking comment on the Supreme Court’s decision. MacIver’s attorney Dan Suhr also did not immediately return a message.

MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences. But the institute sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal in 2019. Evers wasn’t present, but members of his administration provided information to reporters on embargo ahead of his budget speech to the Legislature that evening.

The appeals court noted that a limited number of reporters were allowed into the event. Reporters from The Associated Press, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, were among those present for that briefing.

Former governors, including Walker, also limited the number of reporters and news outlets that could attend budget briefings and other events.

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