Transparency Advocate U.S. Senator Leahy to Receive Hamblett Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

Leahy2009A long-time champion of press freedom and First Amendment rights, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) will receive the New England First Amendment Coalition‘s 2016 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award. The award is named after the late publisher of The Providence Journal and given each year to an individual who has promoted, defended or advocated for the First Amendment throughout his or her career.

NEFAC will honor the senator at its annual luncheon from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Mass. Tickets can be purchased here. The coalition will also present its Freedom of Information Award and Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award during the event. Application and nomination forms for those awards can be found here and here, respectively.

Leahy, the son of parents who owned a small private printing company in Vermont’s capital, has said that he comes by his “deep appreciation of the First Amendment honestly. It’s in my blood.” He is perhaps best known for his work to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act and his efforts to improve transparency within the court system, most notably his calls for televised court proceedings.

“We have the power to use technology to allow greater access to public proceedings of the government so that all Americans can witness the quality of justice in this country,” Leahy said in 2012, after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation allowing cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court. “Doing so would deepen Americans’ understanding of the work of the Supreme Court and allow all Americans to see the continuing importance of the constitution.”

More recently, Leahy authored the FOIA Improvement Act which would require federal agencies to adopt a “presumption of openness” standard when considering the release of information under FOIA. The bill would also strengthen the power of the Office of Government Information Services, which acts as a FOIA ombudsman and helps resolve disputes between record requesters and agencies. In 2009, the senator authored the OPEN FOIA Act. This act required Congress to clearly state its intentions when providing statutory exemptions to FOIA in new legislation. In 2007, Leahy authored legislation that resulted in the first significant reforms to FOIA in more than a decade.

In addition to his work to improve FOIA and make the judicial system more accessible, Leahy’s First Amendment bona fides include:

  • Media Shield Law | The senator supported and co-sponsored the Free Flow of Information Act, legislation that would create a qualified privilege for journalists to protect information they obtained under a promise of confidentiality. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy successfully moved this media shield law legislation through the committee three times with strong bipartisan support.
  • Libel Tourism Protection | Leahy authored the 2010 SPEECH Act, which now protects American journalists, authors and publishers who are sued for libel in foreign jurisdictions with weak First Amendment protections.
  • Net Neutrality | The senator served as a co-founder and later as co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus and was one of the leading voices in support of the Federal Communications Commission adopting net neutrality protections.

“Sen. Leahy has dedicated much of his career to improving public access to government information. He understands the importance of transparency, a free press and the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “We are very excited to have the senator join us in February to accept our Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.”

Previous Hamblett Award recipients include Anthony Lewis, the late author and columnist for The New York TimesMartin BaronWashington Post executive editor and former Boston Globe editor; Philip BalboniGlobalPost co-founder and CEO; James Risen, investigative reporter for The New York Times; and former federal judge Nancy Gertner.

The awards luncheon is part of the New England Newspaper & Press Association‘s winter convention. More information about the luncheon can be found here.

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NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe and Boston University.

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