PEN America Files Legal Brief Against Trump Efforts to Censor Bolton Book
Literary group argues barring publication would be serious infringement of Bolton’s First Amendment rights, the public’s right to know
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America, with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, filed an amicus brief Friday opposing a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration that seeks to bar former national security adviser John Bolton from publishing his forthcoming book, set to be released June 23, which reportedly argues that the president put himself and his re-election efforts ahead of national interests.
Earlier this week, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Bolton asking a D.C. federal court to halt publication of his tell-all memoir, arguing that Bolton failed to complete the review process required for government officials with security clearances to publish a book. The government later sought a temporary injunction to prevent publication of Bolton’s book from ever reaching the hands of the public. This kind of “prior restraint,” PEN America argues in its amicus brief opposing the lawsuit, is “almost conclusive[ly]” presumed to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.
“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 argues. It goes on to say that the book was thoroughly vetted, and that the Trump administration’s objections likely have little to do with national security concerns. “It is not difficult to see what is going on,” PEN America’s brief argues. “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.”
“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,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “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. We know the president has a penchant for lobbing attacks at those whose commentary he wants to suppress. It’s why we sued President Trump in 2018, as he has engaged in an unconstitutional pattern of targeting reporters whose coverage he dislikes. We’ll continue to fight these censorship tactics for our writer Members and their readers.”
“The Trump administration is attempting to hide information of great public concern from the American people,” said attorney Ted Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “Let’s be clear: this isn’t just about damages for injuries allegedly caused by speech after the fact. This is about silencing Bolton and preventing the public from reading his views before his book is even published and in the hands of readers. The Supreme Court has never upheld a prior restraint on speech about matters of public concern, nor should the District Court do so in this case.”
For nearly a century, PEN America has been at the frontlines of the fight to protect journalists, authors, and other creatives to express their thoughts free from the threat of government harm or retaliation. Most recently, PEN filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump for his retaliatory measures against media coverage he dislikes, which includes revoking journalists’ White House press passes and targeting outlets and other officials for speech he aims to suppress.
The amicus brief was written and filed with the pro bono assistance of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, led by Ted Boutrous.