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Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers' Exclusion of Conservative Think Tank is Legal, SCOTUS Says

Newsweek logo Newsweek 12/13/2021 Erin Brady

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers did not violate the First Amendment by barring a conservative think tank from press briefings.

Justices denied the lower court review of the lawsuit filed against Evers by the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. The denial follows other rulings on the lawsuit, which claims that the institute was purposely banned from the governor's press briefings and mailing lists because of its conservative lean.

However, other courts ruled that Evers was not violating the First Amendment by barring the group. In March of 2020, U.S. District Judge James Peterson rejected the suit by saying the group was not prohibited from reporting on the Democratic governor, as they could still publish reports on him and his policies outside of daily briefings.

Peterson also said that Evers' claim that the institute was a think tank rather than a news-gathering operation, which is why it was barred, was reasonable.

"MacIver publicly brands itself as a think tank committed to ideological principles. It engages in policy-driven political advocacy, including advocating for specific initiatives and policy approaches," Peterson said in his ruling. "It has a 'news' tab on its website, but it does not maintain a news-gathering organization separate from its overall ideological mission."

The Supreme Court has not released an opinion on its rejection. Spokespeople for Evers and the institute have not responded to requests for comment.

Former Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, joined in the institute's bid for high-court review. Evers defeated Walker in 2018.

Walker had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the ruling in favor of Evers allows censorship because it permits picking and choosing which reporters attend press events that have long been open to reporters but closed to the general public.

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The appeals court ruled that Evers' media-access criteria was reasonable and he was under no obligation to grant access for every news outlet to every news conference.

MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences.

But the institute sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal in 2019. Evers wasn't present, but members of his administration provided information to reporters on embargo ahead of his budget speech to the Legislature that evening.

The appeals court noted that a limited number of reporters were allowed into the event. Reporters from the Associated Press, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, were among those present for that briefing.

Former governors, including Walker, also limited the number of reporters and news outlets that could attend budget briefings and other events.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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