FIRST AMENDMENT ADVOCACY

NYPD-credentialed photojournalist Julia Xanthos, wearing a 2007 NYPD-issued press credential along with a camera, under arrest by the NYPD for doing her job.

NYPD-credentialed photojournalist Julia Xanthos, wearing a 2007 NYPD-issued press credential along with a camera, under arrest by the NYPD for doing her job.

 

I am the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, and the plaintiff in another lawsuit against the NYPD. Both lawsuits are federal civil rights actions that challenge Government’s power to disseminate propaganda.

In Nicholas v. Bratton, I challenged the NYPD’s power to revoke at-will NYPD-issued press credentials because if Government can control who reports news, Government can control what and how news is reported. Federal judge J. Paul Oetken agreed, and on Mar. 26, 2019 ruled that the NYPD can’t suspend or revoke press credentials without a due process hearing.

The Court also ruled a trial is required to determine whether New York City violates First Amendment press freedoms when it excludes journalists from news scenes while simultaneously allowing city press officials to photograph and observe activity within the exclusion zone, without restriction, for official social media “reports.”

The suit was prompted when, in 2015, New York City public relations officials and NYPD officers revoked my NYPD press credential for photographing the rescue of an injured construction worker, because the city did not want images of injured construction workers in the news, according to official emails obtained from the city during discovery.

I filed the lawsuit with a legal complaint I drafted myself. The lawsuit got my press credential returned, but I kept the case going to stop the city from censoring news in the future. Now I’m represented by Joel Kurtberg and Merriam Mikhail of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel, home to legendary First Amendment “Pentagon Papers” litigator Floyd Abrams. Abrams also contributed to the fight.

In the case against Trump, Liane Nikitovich, Kristine Rakowsky and myself contest the President’s power to send Presidential Alert messages to Americans’ cellular devices that we are mandated by law to receive.

Our complaint alleges compulsory messages hijack “private property for the purpose of planting a Government-controlled loudspeaker in the home and on the person of every American.” Instead, we say, “the American people are constitutionally-entitled … to decide for themselves whether” to receive Presidential Alerts.

We drafted and filed the complaint ourselves, without a lawyer. Now represented by former NYCLU chief Norman Siegel, we expect a hearing in the case soon.

I taught myself the law in jail while awaiting trial in 1990 New York. Charged with murder for shooting a drug dealer, a jury convicted me of manslaughter. Sentenced to 6 1/3 to 19 years in state prison, I worked as a law clerk and assisted other prisoners with all kinds of legal matters.

When I wasn’t in the law library, I was taking college courses funded by the federal PELL grant program for poor students. But, then, President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 into law.

The Crime Bill included a provision banning prisoners from the PELL grant program, effectively eliminating prison college programs, and I filed a federal lawsuit alleging it violated the Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection. However, the federal courts in Washington, D.C. found otherwise.

But I won a five-year legal battle in 2001 to establish America’s first prisoner-run, prisoners’ rights organization. That victory followed a precedent-setting Federal appeals’ court ruling in Nicholas v. Miller that established prisoners’ right to political association and collective expression under the First Amendment.

Paroled in 2003, a letter of recommendation from a federal judge helped get me admitted to NYU. I took classes in the evening; during the day I worked for Ron Kuby, the renowned civil liberties and criminal defense lawyer.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing in 2006, and went to work as a news photographer in 2006, working for the New York Post, the New York Daily News and the Daily Mail until the NYPD revoked my press credential in 2015. That’s when I shifted my focus to news reporting.