A pro-life journalist whose undercover videos launched congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to reconsider a lower court ruling against her.
Sandra Merritt and Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden released a series of undercover videos in 2015 revealing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the organization’s involvement in fetal tissue trafficking. The Ninth Circuit ruled in October that the videos, which prompted a congressional investigation, were not protected by the First Amendment, requiring the activists to pay millions in damages to Planned Parenthood.
“Invoking journalism and the First Amendment does not shield individuals from liability for violations of laws applicable to all members of society,” Ninth Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould, a former President Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in the opinion. “Appellants have no special license to break laws of general applicability in pursuit of a headline.”
Now, Merritt is asking the Supreme Court to consider whether the First Amendment “protects newsgathering journalists, who operate under an alias to document and expose what they reasonably believe to be unlawful conduct, from being subjected to punitive liability for fraud.”
Merritt and Daleiden used fake IDs to gain access to National Abortion Federation conferences, where they conducted interviews using hidden cameras. Planned Parenthood has called the Center for Medical Progress claims about its activities “false,” and denies selling fetal tissue. (RELATED: FBI Agents Questioned Pro-Life Activist’s Mother During Surprise Visit To Her Home, Video Shows)
Current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, then-California attorney general, pressed felony charges against Merritt and Daleiden in 2017 for filming without consent. Current Vice President Kamala Harris previously initiated the charges and ordered agents to raid Daleiden’s home when she was California attorney general.
Planned Parenthood initially sued in federal court in 2016.
“Sandra Merritt is asking the Supreme Court to undo the blatant injustice of this case,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. “Every journalist and person who values free speech and a free press should be concerned with the implications of this case.”
Thomas More Society attorneys, on behalf of David Daleiden, Center for Medical Progress and Biomax Procurement Services, also asked the Supreme Court to step in last week.
“These are not private videos—they’re videos of an 800-person abortion trade show that Mr. Daleiden was invited to attend,” Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and Head of Litigation, said in a statement. “David Daleiden is one of the most notable undercover journalists of our time, reporting on one of the most contentious political issues of our day.
“If the high-profile work of someone of David’s stature can be banned, no undercover journalist is safe from the risk of ruinous financial sanctions and never-ending lawsuits,” he continued.
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