Wikileaks Judge: You're Out of Order?!? I'm Out of Order!
Second, the [Temporary Restraining Order] against Wikileaks violates the First Amendment because judicial orders enjoining reporting on or dissemination of documents constitute prior restraints. Under Pentagon Papers, the First Amendment prohibits prior restraints in nearly every circumstance, even where national security may be at risk and the press’s source is alleged to have obtained the documents unlawfully. The privacy and commercial interests Plaintiffs cite are simply not on the same order of magnitude required to justify a prior restraint, and the grab bag of federal, state and foreign laws they cite do not authorize prior restraints.”
–Excerpt from amicus brief in Bank Julius Baer v. Wikileaks
The U.S. District Court judge who issued the injunction ordering Wikileaks.org disabled has, after a bit of thought, come to view it as privacy and civil-rights groups had: overly broad and violative of the whistleblower site’s First Amendment rights.
Responding to a barrage of motions filed by a coalition of media and public-interest organizations Friday, Judge Jeffrey White reversed the permanent injunction he issued two weeks ago shuttering Wikileaks. In his ruling, White–while not admitting that his original order may well have violated prior restraint –acknowledged it was complicated by free-speech issues. “There are serious questions about prior restraint, possible violations of the First Amendment, which the court can make no definitive findings about at this point,” he wrote. “It is clear that in all but the most exceptional circumstances, an injunction restricting speech pending final resolution of the constitutional concerns is impermissible.”
Clear, too, that attempting to restrict free speech on the Internet is a near impossibility these days. “There are serious concerns that the court has, and serious questions raised, about the effectiveness of any order that this court might issue given the current state of affairs,” White continued. “Maybe that’s just the reality of the world that we live in. When this genie gets out of the bottle, that’s it.”
Or as Internet pioneer John Gilmore once put it, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.“