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Lawsuit: White House Press Office Unconstitutionally Targeted Reporter With New Credentialing Requirement

Lawsuit: White House Press Office Unconstitutionally Targeted Reporter With New Credentialing Requirement

The revised requirement came after heated exchanges between the reporter and White House Press Secretary over the White House’s alleged refusal to answer the reporter’s questions.

A White House correspondent is suing to block the White House’s new press credentialing requirement after he was denied a “hard pass.” The hard pass is “a special form of press credentials that allows unlimited access to the White House press facilities.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association notes that “[a] hard pass is critical for anyone who reports regularly on the White House.”

The Center for American Liberty (CAL) filed the complaint on behalf of Today News Africa‘s White House correspondent Simon Ateba, who has failed to qualify under the new hard pass requirement.

The revised requirement restricts the hard pass to White House correspondents who have “[a]ccreditation by a press gallery in either the Supreme Court, U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives.”

Ateba has not met the revised requirement because the Supreme Court typically limits credentials to full-time Supreme Court reporters, which Ateba is not, and the Congressional Press Gallery has not replied to his request for accreditation, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges the White House Press Office routinely ignores Ateba’s written questions, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refuses to call on Ateba during press briefings, and the Press Office denies Ateba access to President Biden’s press conferences.

Dissatisfied with his lack of access, Ateba took to “speaking up during press briefings” by “asserted himself in the briefing room, speaking over other reporters and the White House Press Secretary in an attempt to make his concerns known,” as he did at a press briefing on March 20, 2023.

Shortly before the revised requirement took effect, Ateba received a letter warning him his conduct violated the Press Office’s decorum policy, which is not the subject of the lawsuit.

“The White House can, and has, adopted a decorum policy for the briefing room,” CAL associate counsel Eric Sell told Legal Insurrection. “We are not challenging this decorum policy, nor are we arguing the White House can’t enforce it.”

“Instead, we are challenging the new criteria all journalists must satisfy to qualify for a hard pass,” Sell continued. “We are also challenging the changes to the hard pass criteria for targeting Simon specifically.”

The complaint accuses the White House of revising the credentialing requirement “in a brazen attempt to exclude Mr. Ateba from the White House briefing room.” The changes came “because the White House no longer wanted deal with him or his questions,” according to the complaint.

“Mr. Ateba’s questions often relate to issues other White House correspondents do not cover. . . . Mr. Ateba covers topics affecting millions of people around the world—and many of his colleagues have little interest in asking the questions to which Mr. Ateba wants answers,” which focus on United States–Africa relations.

“The mainstream media coverage of these incidents,” according to the complaint, “has largely painted Mr. Ateba as disruptive, disrespectful, and even seeking attention for himself. But Mr. Ateba is simply seeking answers to his questions, which the White House refuses to give.”

“It is common for White House correspondents to raise their voices and even shout over each other during press briefings,” the complaint argues.

The complaint alleges First and Fifth Amendment violations because the revised hard pass requirement impermissibly and vaguely delegates accreditation authority to the Congressional Press Gallery in a manner “giv[ing] the government unbridled discretion to permit the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

The discretion is “unbridled” because the Congressional Press Gallery “only approv[es] credentials for journalists they deem are ‘reputable.’ The failure to adopt and apply purely objective standards for congressional press credentials renders the credentialing process unconstitutional.”

The complaint also alleges viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment:

Defendants violated Mr. Ateba’s First Amendment rights by changing the criteria for hard pass credentials to intentionally prevent Mr. Ateba from obtaining hard pass access. Defendants did so by adopting credentialing criteria specifically designed to exclude Mr. Ateba from eligibility. Such discrimination amounts to a content-based regulation and viewpoint discrimination against Mr. Ateba in violation of the First Amendment.

The final claim alleges the Secret Service violated the APA by terminating Ateba’s hard pass without any stated justification. “[T]he Secret Service has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in cancelling Mr. Ateba’s hard pass, in violation of” the APA.

The complaint names three defendants: Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the United States Secret Service, and Director of the Secret Service Kimberly Cheatle.

As press secretary, “Jean-Pierre is in charge of the White House Press Office, the organization responsible for credentialing reporters for the White House press facilities.” The Secret Service “is the agency ultimately responsible for issuing the hard pass.


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Bucky Barkingham | August 23, 2023 at 8:04 am

IIRC when the Trump White House tried this with Acosta they were quickly slapped down by the Leftist courts.

    healthguyfsu in reply to Bucky Barkingham. | August 23, 2023 at 11:29 am

    Well, they weren’t as slick about it. They tried to straight up revoke his personal pass. Somehow, that constituted a violation despite the fact that CNN could just send another reporter in his place. If Acosta had done something more beligerent, then they probably would have upheld it.

    I guess the larger point was not to be able to silence reporters by intimidation, which is exactly what has happened here in the Biden WH.

There must be some consumer-worthy news that they are keeping a lid on.
Why the secrecy?

We better get used to unconstitutional targeting. Unconstitutional targeting is all a police state does. That and the trains.

    thalesofmiletus in reply to Concise. | August 23, 2023 at 8:45 am

    They don’t need to send you anywhere, they just push a button and get you de-platformed, fired, de-banked, and homeless. Because in Soviet America, Gulag comes to you!

Normally I would say this is ridiculous, but there’s a court decision from the Trump years that although press access is entirely at the White House’s discretion, if they set up a system for accreditation then they can’t discriminate arbitrarily, and those with a pass have a fifth amendment right to keep it and it can’t be taken from them arbitrarily.

The White House can always just abolish passes and make press conferences by invitation only. Then they can invite whomever they like. But so long as they decided to have an objective system it has to be administered fairly.

    Milhouse is still playing by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. How quaint.

    This is precisely how the Bolsheviks defeated the Russian professional-intelligencia class. The Bolsheviks changed the rules of the game while the tsar’s barristers babbled about something that no longer existed.

2smartforlibs | August 23, 2023 at 8:55 am

The same zeros were peral cluthcing when they thought Jim Accosted Clinton New Net was being mistreated.

What’s really shocking is that Simon Ateba is black and yet you don’t hear the cries of racism over this issue that would be mandatory if this had been a conservative administration.

    CommoChief in reply to Cleetus. | August 23, 2023 at 10:13 am

    Denigrating and casually dismissing black/latino voices who don’t toe the line, think/speak for themselves v the approved plantation identity imposed by the d/prog isn’t new.

    henrybowman in reply to Cleetus. | August 23, 2023 at 2:09 pm

    Black and genuinely African.
    Diversity of skin AND diversity of opinion: a Democrat’s worst nightmare.
    In a proper world, Ateba should have Karinge’s job. Literally.

    herm2416 in reply to Cleetus. | August 23, 2023 at 6:13 pm

    Imagine if he worked for NPR, asking the same questions he asks now, with April.
    What a conundrum,

In case you are interested, the DHillon Law group is in on this.

E Howard Hunt | August 23, 2023 at 11:52 am

If a slick Hollywood production portrayed a black woman in authority as being as stupid as Karine Jean-Pierre, the movie would be boycotted for overt racism.

She only got the job because all the smart people said “no!”

Is it written somewhere that journalists, or for that matter, anyone, has a right to interrogate the executive branch?

I understand that the First Amendment provides the right to petition the government, but that does not obligate the government to respond.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the executive should fully disclose his intentions through his spokesperson.

I just do not understand how a journalist gains standing for a court case regarding who and who does not have access to the executive’s spokesperson.


    jagibbons in reply to not_a_lawyer. | August 24, 2023 at 8:14 am

    Because the WH does allow access and allegedly choose arbitrarily who is admitted and who is not.

    Milhouse in reply to not_a_lawyer. | August 24, 2023 at 9:12 pm

    See my response above. The White House is not required to have a press room or press conferences, and it can adopt a policy of allowing reporters access by invitation only, which it can use as arbitrarily as it likes.

    But if it has a system of passes, and someone has qualified for one, that person gains a fifth amendment right to the pass, and can’t be arbitrarily deprived of it. Or at least so a court ruled about 4 years ago, and the Trump White House didn’t appeal that decision.