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National security adviser John Bolton at a meeting with President Donald Trump on September 28, 2018. (Photo: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

PEN America Legal Brief Condemns Trump Effort to Censor Bolton Book as 'Affront' to First Amendment

"A free society cannot abide the government silencing certain perspectives before they are even uttered; such censorship runs contrary to the very notion of what our First Amendment was written to guard against."

Jake Johnson

Free speech advocacy group PEN America filed a legal brief Friday condemning the ongoing effort by President Donald Trump's White House to block former national security adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book as a politically motivated and dangerous assault on the First Amendment.

"It is not difficult to see what is going on: The president is employing the apparatus of the federal government to punish his political enemies, thwart freedom of speech, and pursue his political interests in an election year."
—PEN America

"A free society cannot abide the government silencing certain perspectives before they are even uttered; such censorship runs contrary to the very notion of what our First Amendment was written to guard against," Nora Benavidez, PEN America's director of U.S. free expression programs, said in a statement.

"Any result other than dismissal in this case will be an affront to Bolton's First Amendment right to speak and to all of our rights as members of the public and as readers to learn about his views," Benavidez added. "We'll continue to fight these censorship tactics for our writer members and their readers."

The brief (pdf) comes days after the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit attempting to delay publication of Bolton's book, which is set for release on June 23. On Wednesday, the Justice Department asked Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to issue an emergency injunction halting distribution of the book, asserting that it contains classified information. Lamberth is set to hear arguments in the case on Friday.

In its brief, PEN calls on Lamberth to deny the Justice Department's injunction request, calling it an unlawful prior restraint "on speech and on the press."

"PEN America supports the First Amendment right of public employees to produce works that are critical of the government, and of readers to receive their unique perspective unfettered by government censorship," the brief states. "It is not difficult to see what is going on: The president is employing the apparatus of the federal government to punish his political enemies, thwart freedom of speech, and pursue his political interests in an election year."

The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute also filed briefs Friday urging the judge to deny the Justice Department's request.

"John Bolton's book has already been excerpted in most major papers, read aloud on national television, and delivered to bookstores worldwide. The cat is not simply out of the bag, it has left the country," Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Center for Democracy, said in a statement. "If the powers the government is claiming were not so dangerous, this lawsuit would be a farce."

This article has been updated with comment from the ACLU.


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