A “literary group” is suing President Donald Trump for what they claim are actions that have impeded the practice of free speech and, in particular, the rights of a free press.
PEN America, which bills itself as a support group for “persecuted writers,” filed suit Monday in federal court to “stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.”
PEN is represented by the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic and “Project Democracy.”
The group claims that President Trump has committed “official acts” that have “violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution,” leaving reporters subject to an “environment of hostility,” that requires they hire security and keep vigilant watch at work lest they be attacked in their own newsrooms.
But when it comes to what PEN considers legal problems, the suit is less about Trump’s rhetoric and more about his involvement in a potential merger between AT&T and CNN, as well as a speech Trump gave suggesting that the United States Postal Service reconsider its sweetheart deal with Amazon that has federal employees acting as the mega-corporation’s delivery service at a steep discount.
The only reporter mentioned in PEN’s suit is Kaitlan Collins, who was asked to leave a White House press conference.
“President Trump has First Amendment rights and is free to criticize the press vehemently, but he is not free to use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it,” the suit concludes.
There’s one big problem with PEN’s suit: although the organization clearly wants to be the gatekeeper of the free press, it must personally suffer harm from the President’s actions in order to bring suit against the White House — and that harm may not be present here.
In its rhetoric, the group claims to be bringing the suit on behalf of oppressed and fearful journalists, but the Supreme Court has yet to hold that being a “meany-pants” to reporters is an actionable constitutional complaint. In the body of the suit, the group claims to be suing on behalf of both CNN and Amazon, but there’s no indication either group has given PEN America authority to act as its legal representative, and for those complaints to succeed the group that suffered the harm in question — in this case, CNN or Amazon — would be better off bringing the suit.
Instead, both of those corporations have chosen to fight their battles elsewhere.