When Kevin Kiley was elected to Congress, he reached out to a Washington insider who had been his teacher at Yale Law School.
It just so happened to be Jamie Raskin, the Maryland congressman who rocketed to political stardom as the lead Democrat in the 2021 effort to impeach Donald Trump.
A Republican endorsed by Trump, Kiley made his own name in California as a vocal opponent of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Back in his course on law in American politics, he never imagined he would one day be teaming up on a bill with the man at the head of the classroom. But their bipartisan legislation to protect journalists from government surveillance passed the House on Thursday evening, under suspension of the rules.
“He really seemed to love the give-and-take and the battle of ideas,” said Kiley, who was in law school when Raskin was pulling double duty, making the trip once a week to lecture at Yale while he served in the Maryland Senate.
The bill, dubbed the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act, or PRESS Act, passed the House last Congress in a nearly identical form. But this time Raskin was on the hunt for a GOP ally to sponsor it.
Raskin turned to Kiley, who he said was “super prepared” and “very active and engaged in classroom discussions” as a law student.
“Of course he does his homework, and he wanted to read the fine print and read very deeply into the whole issue,” Raskin said. Once Kiley signed on to the bill, he helped Raskin with “maneuvering it through the GOP leadership.”
“I think that having had that prior time where we got to know each other outside of the high-intensity world of politics, in the somewhat more relaxed arena of academia, built a really good foundation that we’ve now been able to really use to advance legislation,” Kiley said.
The legislation would block federal law enforcement agencies from subpoenaing journalists’ emails, phone records, recordings and photographs in an attempt to nail down the identity of confidential sources in their reporting. It includes tailored exceptions for terrorism or threats of imminent violence or harm.
The bill defines a journalist as someone “who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, investigates, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” That wide net means it would apply to photojournalists and video journalists, as well as editors and freelancers.
The American Civil Liberties Union endorses the bill, noting that the majority of states already have so-called shield laws in place to protect reporters.
But the rules don’t apply to the federal government, and states have varying protections. “The PRESS Act would provide uniform protections to journalists across the country,” the ACLU said in a letter Tuesday urging House members to vote for the bill.
Raskin said he thinks the press shield effort has a “very good chance” of succeeding in the Senate and he plans to meet with the lawmakers working on Sen. Ron Wyden’s version of the legislation next week. The Oregon Democrat’s bill is backed by Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin and Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“Reporters need to be able to do their job without a threat of being pulled into court,” Raskin said.
But the push in 2022 was tripped up by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who argued at the time that it “would open a floodgate of leaks damaging to law enforcement and our nation’s security.” A spokesperson for Cotton told Roll Call on Friday that his stance on the proposal has not changed.
Interest in press shield legislation picked up steam in 2022 following news that the Department of Justice under Trump had seized records from reporters at outlets including CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.
“This is a bill that I think both sides would probably agree would be a good thing to have, regardless of who’s in the White House,” said Peter Loge, a George Washington University associate professor and former congressional staffer.
Wyden’s identical version of the House-passed bill hasn’t made it far in the Senate; a markup has yet to be scheduled.
But both Raskin and Kiley are projecting confidence — and pointing to their own unlikely pairing as evidence that the issue can generate broad support. While they may share memories of a course syllabus and a love for constitutional law, they diverge on many other policy debates.
“Everybody across the political spectrum can see the basic wisdom of defending the free press as an institution in a time of a lot of political turbulence and division,” Raskin said.
Justin Papp contributed to this report.