WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (search) has apologized for an incident last week in which a U.S. marshal erased reporters' recordings of a speech Scalia gave to high school students.
"I have written to the reporters involved, extending my apology," Scalia said in a letter to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (search).
Scalia normally bars television cameras from his appearances, but his policy on the use of small audio recorders has not been clear-cut. Newspaper and other print reporters typically use the devices to ensure the accuracy of quotations but not to record speeches or other remarks for broadcast.
Scalia's April 9 letter said he is "undertaking to revise my policy so as to permit recording for use of the print media." The letter arrived Monday, Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish said.
During the April 7 speech in Hattiesburg, Miss. (search), a deputy federal marshal demanded that reporters for The Associated Press and the Hattiesburg American erase recordings of the justice's remarks. She said the justice had asked that his appearance not be recorded.
When the AP reporter resisted, the officer took the digital recorder out of the reporter's hands. The reporter then showed Marshal Melanie Rube how to erase the recording. The exchange occurred in the front row of the auditorium while Scalia delivered his speech about the Constitution.
The AP reporter, Denise Grones, had not received Scalia's letter Monday.
"We are pleased Justice Scalia has acknowledged that it was wrong for federal law enforcement officers to force reporters to erase their tapes," said Frank Fisher, AP bureau chief for Mississippi.
"But the justice also ordered a television crew to leave a public reception before the speech, and newspaper photographers were initially told not to take pictures. We think that deserves an apology, too," Fisher said.
In his letter to the journalists' advocacy group, Scalia said he had not directed the marshal to act.
"I was as upset as you were," he wrote to Dalglish.
Neither Scalia nor his hosts at Hattiesburg's Presbyterian Christian High School announced any ban on audio recordings before the speech.
Allowing recordings by print reporters "will, as you say, promote accurate reporting," Scalia wrote to Dalglish.
The AP reported that Scalia told the high school students, "The Constitution (search) of the United States is extraordinary and amazing. People just don't revere it like they used to."
Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., referred to that quote in a letter Monday to the chief administrator of the federal court system. The senators asked for a clear policy on media coverage of federal judges' public remarks.
"Actions speak louder than words," the senators wrote. "If the seizure of the reporters' tapes did not violate the letter of the Constitution — and it may well have — it certainly violates the spirit."
Last year, Scalia was criticized for refusing to allow television and radio coverage of an event in Ohio in which he received an award for supporting free speech.
"We're gratified that Justice Scalia shares our anger over the recordings' seizures and we think his stated intention to change the policies governing how his public speeches are covered is a good move," said Jon Broadbooks, the Hattiesburg American's executive editor.
"What remains is the very important question of why the U.S. Marshal's Service thought it proper to break the law by seizing the recordings in the first place."