WASHINGTON — The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the ACLU, and the ACLU of DC today filed an amicus brief in U.S. v. Bolton, urging the court to reject the White House’s request for an injunction to block the publication of a memoir by former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The book, which underwent a lengthy government review process and reflects on Bolton’s time in the Trump administration, has already been excerpted in major newspapers and hundreds of thousands of copies have been distributed around the world in anticipation of a June 23 release.

“There is simply no serious argument here that the government is entitled to a prior restraint against publication,” said Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “To grant a prior restraint in the circumstances presented here—with the book already having been distributed around the world—would make a mockery of the First Amendment.”   

The court should not take at face value the government’s claims that the book contains information whose disclosure should harm national security, the brief says: “As the government itself acknowledges, a senior career national security official informed the defendant, after leading a nearly five-month review, that the version of the book now in bookstores does not contain any classified information. That an assortment of political appointees now apparently claim, in sealed declarations, that they have discovered classified information that the National Security Council’s ordinary review channels missed is not irrelevant—but the Court should read these declarations with extreme skepticism.”

“This is yet another example of how the prepublication review system is broken and susceptible to abuse at the hands of the executive branch,” said Alex Abdo, Litigation Director at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “It makes no sense to give executive branch officials such broad power to silence their critics. The court should reject the White House’s futile effort to block publication of Bolton’s memoir.”

A copy of today’s brief can be found here.

On April 2, 2019, the Knight Institute and the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of five former public servants challenging the government’s prepublication review system. The plaintiffs argue that the system violates the First and Fifth Amendments. On April 16, 2020, granting the government’s motion to dismiss the case, a district court held that the plaintiffs had standing to pursue the challenge but that the prepublication review system is constitutional. Plaintiffs have appealed. More information about this lawsuit, Edgar v. Ratcliffe, is available here.

An overview of the key features of the prepublication review regimes across 17 intelligence agencies can be found here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, [email protected]