Maricopa County can't block Gateway Pundit from news conferences, court says
Maricopa County erred in blocking a Gateway Pundit writer from attending on-site election news conferences, a federal appeals court said Monday.
The order overturned a district court judge's decision that the county was not obliged to provide Jordan Conradson, the website's Arizona correspondent, with press credentials. Judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the county's denial of Conradson's request for a press pass was based on the viewpoints expressed in his writing and violated the First Amendment.
"It is the county’s politically-tinged assessment of Conradson’s prior reporting that appears to have led it to deny him a press pass," the order read. "That type of viewpoint-based discrimination is exactly what the First Amendment protects against."
Gateway Pundit — a website described by PolitiFact as conservative with a high number of false findings about its work — is known for its right-wing lean. Conradson has previously spread false information around county elections, amplifying conspiracies around normal voting and counting processes.
Maricopa County officials argued in court that Conradson's reporting has led to death threats against county employees and that the county has the ability under existing legal precedent in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to set content-neutral limitations on journalists, including restrictions in the interest of security.
County officials noted Conradson tried to access the county's tabulation center multiple times without a press pass. Most news conferences and other events were livestreamed, according to officials.
Officials said Tuesday that the county would comply with the court's order.
"The Ninth Circuit has made it very clear that they want the credentials issued right away, so they disagreed with Maricopa County and the Seventh Circuit," said Tom Liddy, chief of the county attorney's civil services division.
Conradson's legal team heralded the news as a victory for a free press.
"You're welcome," said attorney Marc Randazza. "One day, The Arizona Republic is going to run up against a government official or government agency that doesn't like it, and they're going to pull this order out and slap it right down on their desk and say, 'Oh no, you don't.'"
What happens next?
The order doesn't mark the end of the case. It grants Conradson a press pass pending appeal, and the case is set for a 20-minute hearing in January, according to court records.
A footnote in the order also specifies that it "does not preclude Maricopa County from revoking Conradson’s press credentials in the future — or declining to grant those credentials — so long as the county does so consistent with Conradson’s First Amendment rights."
Both Liddy and Randazza said it's unclear whether the court would issue a formal opinion on the case.
"They might," Randazza said. "Or they might just say, you know, this (order) is a pretty detailed analysis of the real core issue in the case."
If the court issues a formal opinion, Liddy said it could conflict with standing legal precedent from the 7th Circuit, which would make the case "ripe" for Supreme Court review.
Randazza said that's only possible if the court issues an opinion saying there's an issue with the previous precedent set by the 7th Circuit.
In Monday's order, he said, the court found that the county's reasoning for denying Conradson a press pass was based on content, so the prior case from the Seventh Circuit wasn't applicable.
"You don't have to conflict with (the Seventh Circuit) to find for my client," Randazza said.
Sasha Hupka covers Maricopa County and regional issues for The Arizona Republic with a focus on voting and democracy. Do you have a tip about elections or a question about voting? Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @SashaHupka.