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Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta’s press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Key Takeaways
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.

A federal judge has ordered the White House to reinstate the press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, marking a legal victory for the network and the many media organizations that backed it.

On Tuesday, CNN filed a lawsuit alleging that the Trump administration had violated Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights when it revoked a Secret Service “hard pass” from the reporter. Today, Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the administration had likely violated Acosta’s due process rights in revoking the hard pass. Acosta is expected to return to the White House for his usual coverage Friday night.

Still, it’s a narrow and temporary ruling, the judge said, and the lawsuit remains active.

“I want to emphasize the very limited nature of this ruling,” Kelly, whom Trump appointed, said from the bench. “I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated here.”

Did the White House violate the First Amendment?

It’s hard to say. The courts have ruled that not all journalists are automatically granted entry to the White House, but also that there are “important First Amendment rights implicated by refusal to grant White House press passes to bona fide Washington journalists.”

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What’s reasonably clear under the law, and central to this case, is the legal precedent that states an administration cannot revoke a journalist’s press credentials for reasons based on content.

The gist of CNN’s lawsuit, in terms of the First Amendment, was that the Trump administration booted Acosta because it disliked his coverage. But Judge Kelly challenged that idea in court, asking CNN’s attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., why the network considers the reaction from that particular Trump-Acosta outburst to be content based, considering it’s just one of several that have played out since Trump took office.

“This was a bad day for the president. It was the day after the midterms,” Boutrous said, adding: “Rudeness really is a code word for ‘I don’t like you being an aggressive reporter.'”

Ultimately, Judge Kelly didn’t rule one way or the other on the potential First Amendment violations, deciding only that the White House denied Acosta his Fifth Amendment rights, adding that the administration’s process of revoking Acosta’s press pass was “shrouded in mystery.” The Trump administration could still appeal the case, and it remains possible that Acosta could have his hard pass revoked if the administration provides due process in the future.

In the meantime, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wrote that the administration is drafting “rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future.”

“There must be decorum at the White House,” she wrote.


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