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Judge temporarily blocks AZ law that would ban recording video of police

By: and - September 9, 2022 1:30 pm

Phoenix police in riot gear at a 2010 neo-Nazi rally in downtown Phoenix. Photo by John Kittelsrud | Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An Arizona law that would make it illegal to create video recordings of police in certain circumstances will not go into effect Sept. 24 as planned, after a federal judge temporarily blocked its enforcement.

The judge on Friday morning granted a temporary injunction of the law, essentially putting the law on hold while a court case challenging it plays out. 

The law would prohibit video recording of police officers within eight feet of where “law enforcement activity” is happening and if a person does not stop after being told to, they could face a class 3 misdemeanor and up to 30 days in jail.

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The plaintiffs in the case, including the Arizona Mirror and other media and civil rights organizations, say that the law is unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment rights. 

“It’s a gratifying victory,” said Matthew Kelly, attorney representing the plaintiffs. “I’m pleased that the judge recognized that this law is very likely unconstitutional on its face and it’s a great win for both journalists and anybody else in Arizona who wants to simply exercise their First Amendment right to record video of law enforcement performing their duties in public.” 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, who were named in the suit, both said last week that they would not defend the law in court. 

The judge on Friday gave any other officials wishing to defend the law a week to step up and do so. It’s rare but not unheard of, Kelly said, to be involved in a lawsuit that no one is willing to defend. 

“It’s not an automatic win,” he said. “The court still has to consider the argument and make its ruling based on what the law is.”

The plaintiffs in the legal challenge are the Mirror and its parent, States Newsroom; the Arizona Broadcasters Association; the Arizona Newspapers Association; the parent company of Fox 10 Phoenix; the parent company of KTVK 3TV, KPHO CBS 5 News and KOLD News 13; KPNX 12 News; NBCUniversal, which owns Telemundo Arizona; the National Press Photographers Association; Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which owns The Arizona Republic; Scripps Media, which owns ABC15 in Phoenix and KGUN9 in Tucson; and the ACLU of Arizona.

Courts have historically ruled that the First Amendment protects the publication of videos, as well as the recording of them — particularly videos of public officers in public places. 

The U.S. Supreme Court “has consistently recognized a right to gather news, and recording police and other government officials is newsgathering,” attorneys for the news organizations and the ACLU noted in their filings. In a 1972 case, the high court ruled that “freedom of the press could be eviscerated” without First Amendment protections for seeking out the news.

The law was supported by every Republican legislator and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

“At States Newsroom, we are pleased and relieved that no Arizonans, whether or not they are journalists, need to worry about enforcement of a law that would have prevented them from exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Andrea Verykoukis, deputy director of the nonprofit news organization. “We will be interested to see if any officials choose to defend this unconstitutional measure.” 

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Caitlin Sievers
Caitlin Sievers

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She's won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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