Rep. Robert F. Drinan (D.-Mass) yesterday introduced a bill designed to nullify the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week allowing police to obtain a warrant and search a newspaper office and files without showing any illegal activity on the part of the newspaper's empolyes.
Drinan called the decision an "alarming intrusion upon the freedom of the press. It is incumbent upon the Congress what the Supreme Court has unfortunately overlooked - the vital role of a free press in a free society."
Drinan's bill called the press protection act, would prevent search and seizure of the promises of persons in newsgathering without a prior adversary court proceeding. The only exception would be if the police could demonstrate probable cause that the member of the media was committing or had committed a criminal offense.
Drinan said the court proceeding would give a news operation the opportunity to contest the search and possible seizure of documents, files and other materials.
Drinan's bill will probably be referred to the Judiciary Committee on which he serves, but Drinan said he had not yet contacted the chairman or subcommittee chairman about when or whether hearings would be held.
Drinan said he had talked to Deputy Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti who in a news conference suggested there should be safeguards, as there are in the federal system through regulations or, if necessary, by statute, to preserve freedom of the press so that the "chilling effect of intrusion is lessened."
Drinan said he enided Civiletti for filing an amicus curiae brief on the side of the right of police to search.
Civiletti has said there has been no case of a search of media premises under federal auspices. But he said the Justice Department policy would be to first try to get the information from other sources, then subpoena the material, but there could be no subpoena without the express permission of the attorney general.
The same express permission would be needed for a search warrant. Civiletti said, and he suggested state and local officials follow the same "tone and direction."
A Justice Department spokesman noted the legislative branch could impose additional restrictions.