The U.S. Constitution is absolutely clear in its language:
There can be “no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The Wisconsin Constitution is absolutely clear in its language:
“No laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”
Yet Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild was arrested at the state Capitol last week while reporting on the arrest of participants in the Solidarity Sing Along.
Rothschild made it clear that he was a reporter doing his job.
There is no evidence, and no suggestion, that he did anything that any working journalist would not do when covering a controversial event.
Yet the Capitol Police arrested him, handcuffed him, frisked him, detained him in the basement of the Capitol for an inordinate amount of time, and took him in a squad car to the Dane County Jail, where he was frisked again, booked, fingerprinted and detained in a holding cell for 80 minutes.
They now propose to prosecute Rothschild for “resisting or obstructing” the police — a serious charge.
Or, to be more precise, a seriously absurd charge.
If what Rothschild was doing at the Capitol is illegal, then journalism is illegal.
And the constitutions of the United States and the state of Wisconsin, with their absolute protections for freedom of the press, are no longer in effect.
We have no doubt that judges and juries, up to and including the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court — both of which, despite their penchants for conservative judicial activism, maintain a basic regard for the Bill of Rights — will choose to defend the freedom of the press protection in particular and the First Amendment in general.
But it should not come to that.
State officials should recognize that the charges against Rothschild are not just misguided. They are antithetical to the rule of law, and to the core values of the American experiment.
The charges should be dropped. And the state Department of Administration and the Capitol Police should make it absolutely clear that the U.S. Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution — not the dictates of Scott Walker or any other politician — still apply in the state Capitol.