A federal judge blocked a new Arizona law Friday that would have made it a crime to record law enforcement activity within eight feet after receiving a warning.
U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, Arizona Broadcasters Association, and several news organizations, including Fox Television and NBC Universal, by granting the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction to stop HB2319 that would have gone into effect on Sept. 24.
ACLU representatives called the law a “blatant attempt to gut the First Amendment protections for recording police.”
“This is a HUGE WIN for our First Amendment rights that will allow Arizonans to continue to hold police accountable,” ACLU of Arizona officials said in a tweet. “[The law] is a blatant attempt to prohibit people from exercising their constitutional right to record police in public.”
According to the court filings, the ACLU argues that authorities could arrest a reporter for recording video while in a crowd during a protest if a police officer “walks towards the reporter and breaches the eight-foot distance” that stifles the reporter’s ability to move away.
The legislation reads that authorities could charge a person violating the law with a class 3 misdemeanor resulting in $500 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, and up to a year of probation.
The law would have allowed ‘subjects of police contact’ – including the person being questioned, searched or arrested, or any occupant of a vehicle that has been pulled over – to record the police within 8 feet so long as the act of recording did not interfere with any lawful police action. Observers on private property would have also been allowed to film within 8 feet of a police encounter unless filming interfered with police action or police deemed the area unsafe.
Plaintiff NBC 12 News reports that Republican lawmakers who backed the legislation argued officers would have protection from people filming them with ill intentions.
NBC and the other plaintiffs named in the case filed a lawsuit last month against Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone.
The Associated Press reports the outlets that sued include Phoenix Newspapers Inc., parent of The Arizona Republic; Gray Television; Scripps Media; KPNX-TV; Fox Television Stations; NBCUniversal Media; the Arizona Broadcasters Association; States Newsroom; Arizona Newspapers Association; and the National Press Photographers Association.
Judge Tuchi set a deadline of Sept. 16 for anyone who wants to defend the law. However, according to Arizona Mirror, Brnovich’s office and Maricopa County officials said they have no interest in intervening.
The Epoch Times reports that a spokesperson for Bronvich said the attorney general does not have law enforcement authority and argued his office was the wrong party to sue. However, an attorney representing the news outlets disagreed, noting the attorney general has jurisdiction to step in and enforce laws prosecuted by county authorities.
Former police officer and sponsor of the law state Rep. John Kavanagh told The Associated Press that Brnovich took him by surprise when he did not move to defend the law.
“I was assuming that the attorney general would do his job as the state’s attorney and defend a law passed by the state,” Kavanagh said. “We are trying to get together with the (House) speaker and the (Senate) president and see if the Legislature will defend it, but there’s also the possibility of some outside group possibly stepping up.”