Federal Judge Rules White House Must Restore Press Credentials for CNN’s Jim Acosta

A federal district court judge in the District of Columbia today ruled that the White House must restore the press credentials of Jim Acosta, a CNN journalist. Acosta had reportedly engaged in a heated exchange with the president during a news conference last week over the president’s regular disparagement of mainstream news as “fake news.” CNN filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, November 13, arguing that the revocation violated Acosta’s rights to free speech and due process, and seeking a preliminary injunction to reinstate Acosta’s press credentials.

Judge Timothy J. Kelley of the US District Court for the District of Columbia—a Trump appointee—granted CNN’s motion for a preliminary injunction this morning. A preliminary injunction requires that the plaintiff, in this case, CNN, prove four elements: (1) that they are likely to win on the merits of the case, (2) that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief, (3) that the balance of equities and public interest favor granting the injunctive relief.

In ruling for CNN and Acosta, Judge Kelley noted that his ruling was only as to the due process arguments and not the First Amendment arguments. Thus he ducked (for now) the more politically charged question whether the president’s broad discretion encompasses the authority to bar journalists from the White House over mere disagreements or “rudeness.” However, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which CNN cites in its brief and is binding upon Judge Kelley, has held that “the protection afforded newsgathering under the first amendment guarantee of freedom of the press requires that this access [to White House press facilities] not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons.”

While Judge Kelley’s ruling is limited and likely only one small battle in the ongoing war between this White House and the press, today’s ruling is seen as a vindication for journalists, who have recently been under a constant barrage from the White House and conservative commentators.

Additional Reading

CNN v. Trump via Justia Dockets

White House Must Restore Press Credentials for CNN’s Jim Acosta, Judge Rules, New York Times, November 16, 2018