Appeals court temporarily halts protections for journalists, legal observers in Portland

Attorney General William Barr called it an "important step."

A three-judge panel on Thursday temporarily halted protections for journalists and legal observers covering the unrest In Portland, Oregon.

Last week, federal Judge Michael Simon ruled that journalists and legal observers were exempt from federal officers' physical force, arrest or other treatment if the officers "reasonably know" that a person is a journalist or legal observer.

But in a 2-1 decision, the judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed with the government that Judge Simon’s initial ruling was too broad.

“Given the order’s breadth and lack of clarity, particularly in its non-exclusive indicia of who qualifies as “Journalists” and “Legal Observers,” appellants have also demonstrated that, in the absence of a stay, the order will cause irreparable harm to law enforcement efforts and personnel," two of the three judges wrote. "This means that journalists could be subjected to the same physical force as that of the individuals participating."

Attorney William Barr said in a statement that he thought the decision was "an important step."

"Last night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit entered an order temporarily blocking an injunction entered by a federal district court in Portland that imposed extensive but vaguely defined constraints on federal law enforcement personnel striving to protect the federal courthouse and surrounding areas in Portland from destruction," Barr said.

“In practical effect, the district court’s order prevented the federal government from effectively addressing violent mobs through the general crowd-control measures that are required, and it unacceptably increased the risk of serious injury to federal law enforcement officers. The Ninth Circuit’s decision is an important step that will allow federal officers to continue carrying out their important security responsibilities without being subject to untenable conditions.”

Federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security and US Marshals have been deployed to the area around the federal courthouse in Portland for the majority of the summer in response to to unrest in the aftermath of the George Floyd's killing.

The Department of Homeland Security has come under heavy scrutiny for the deployment of federal agents there and journalists have extensively documented their role.