By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers can exclude members of a conservative think tank from attending press briefings and keep them off his email list sent to other reporters, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed the lawsuit in August alleging that Evers violated its staffers’ constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access.
But U.S. District Judge James Peterson on Tuesday rejected their arguments, saying MacIver can still report on what Evers does without being invited to his press briefings or being on his email list. The judge said Evers can restrict access using a “reasonable, viewpoint-neutral criteria.”
“Ordering Evers to grant access to MacIver journalists would establish an untenable precedent,” Peterson wrote. “Any citizen journalist could make the same case MacIver has made, forcing Evers to either permit unrestricted access at every event or forego press events altogether.”
MacIver had argued that Evers was excluding its staffers, and violating their free speech rights, because they are conservatives. But Peterson ruled that MacIver presented no evidence that “Evers grants or denies press access unreasonably or on the basis of the journalist’s viewpoint.”
“Evers has reasonably concluded that MacIver is not a bona fide news organization,” the judge wrote. “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. It has a ‘news’ tab on its website, but it does not maintain a news-gathering organization separate from its overall ideological mission.”
MacIver president Brett Healy said the group was disappointed with the ruling and discussing options for appeal.
“Plain and simple, Judge Peterson just missed this,” Healy said. “Now, more than ever, it is vital that the governor stop blocking MacIver and that all news sources have fair and equal access to information and briefings.”
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff declined comment, saying the ruling speaks for itself.
MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences. But the group sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal last year. 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.
Peterson denied MacIver’s request for a temporary injunction and instead gave the group 10 days to explain why he shouldn’t issue an order in Evers’ favor.