(Reuters) – The White House unlawfully suspended the press credentials of a reporter who got in an argument with a supporter of President Donald Trump at a public event, a U.S. appeals court said on Friday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that blocked the Trump administration from punishing Brian Karem, who writes about the White House for Playboy Magazine.
The appeals court said a one-month suspension of Karem’s security credentials likely violated his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
While the White House has the power to sanction unruly reporters, the law requires it to give fair notice about conduct that should be disciplined, and Karem did not receive an advanced warning, the court said.
“Karem is likely to succeed on his due process claim because, on this record, he lacked fair notice that the White House might punish his purportedly unprofessional conduct by suspending his hard pass,” the ruling stated.
The Justice Department, which argued for the Trump administration, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We …are proud to stand with Brian Karem against an administration that regularly attacks the First Amendment and seeks to chill freedom of the press,” said Ted Boutrous, his lawyer.
Karem served 18 days of the suspension before it was lifted by a lower court, meaning it could have been reinstated for 12 additional days if he lost the court fight, the decision said.
Former White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham notified Karem of the suspension after he traded insults with Sebastian Gorka, a right-wing talk-show host, during a July 2019 event in the White House’s Rose Garden.
At the July 2019 event, a summit on social media, Gorka called the journalist a “punk” after Karem tried to ask Trump a question, according to the court decision.
Karem told Gorka: “Hey come on over here and talk to me, brother, or we can go outside and have a long conversation,” which Gorka interpreted as starting a fight.
(This story corrects spelling of Karem in second to last paragraph, adds missing word in first paragraph.)
Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Aurora Ellis