The Justice Department told the Supreme Court on Saturday that the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press is no license for the Cable News Network to broadcast tape recordings of conversations between jailed Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega and his defense team.
Noriega's lawyers agreed, telling the top court in a separate brief that any such broadcast "poses such a threat to the defendant's right to a fair trial as to justify" a lower court's injunction against the network.On Thursday, CNN petitioned the Supreme Court to set aside an order in Miami by U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who on Nov. 8 barred the network from broadcasting portions of seven tapes until he reviews the material and decides himself whether it would impair Noriega's right to a fair trial.
CNN agreed not to broadcast the tapes until the Supreme Court acts. There was no immediate word on when the top court would make a decision.
CNN says the original recordings were made by Noriega's federal jailers, and hence it is the government - not the network - which has posed any threat to his fair-trial rights.
The government has acknowledged that attorney-client recordings should not have been made, but says, in any case, that Noriega's prosecutors have not had access to them.
To restrain the network from broadcasting the tapes, CNN argued, would cause "irreparable harm to the First Amendment" rights of a free press.
A separate brief filed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the case poses a classic confrontation between a lower court's attempts to protect the rights of an accused and the explicit constitutional command that the freedom to publish not be abridged.
"But this is a conflict which never should have arisen," it said.