For over three hours on December 16th, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legal and constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks. The hearing focused on the Espionage Act and whether the government could prosecute Julian Assange and others affiliated with the organization or not. The hearing also focused on the limits of the law and how the U.S. could adjust the classification process to guard itself from future "attacks" from WikiLeaks.
The seven-person panel included: Abbe D. Lowell, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP in Washington, D.C.; Kenneth L. Wainstein, a partner with O'Melveny & Myers LLP in Washington, D.C.; Geoffrey R. Stone, a professor and Former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School; Gabriel Schoenfeld, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, Thomas S. Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Stephen I. Vladeck, a Professor of Law at American University Washington College Law; and Ralph Nader, a legal advocate and author.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers: Calls for "Criminal Prosecutions or Other Extreme Measures Make Me Uncomfortable"
John Conyers chaired the hearing, which was likely his last hearing as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In his opening statement, he uttered words that few Democrats have been able to muster the courage to say:
"In the 1989 case of Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court set forth one of the fundamental principles of our democracy: 'If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.' That was Justice William Brennan, a man who understood the founding principles of our nation..."
"...There is no doubt that WikiLeaks is very unpopular right now. Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive. But being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.
Indeed, when everyone in this town is joined together calling for someone's head, that is it a pretty strong sign we need to slow down and take a closer look..."
"...the desire to respond to a controversy like this with new legislation is very understandable. And as many panelists will testify, the Committee should take a close look at these issues and consider whether changes in law are needed.