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Hawaii Governor is Hit With First Amendment Lawsuit After Media Reporting On Wildfires is Suppressed

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A legal challenge has been launched this week by the O’Keefe Media Group (OMG) against Josh Green, the Democratic Governor of Hawaii, as well as the County of Maui. Triggering the lawsuit were restrictions which prohibited OMG from capturing images or footage on public lands as they sought to investigate the aftermath of devastating wildfires that have ravaged the area.

The suit alleges that these restrictions, demanded under the governor’s statewide emergency decree, went far enough to threaten the arrest of James O’Keefe, founder of OMG, should he persist with his recording activities and reporting on the wildfires and their origin.

We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.

In a concealed camera footage captured during their investigative excursion, officers of law enforcement relayed this mandate to the journalists.

In a bold statement captured in the video, O’Keefe disclosed his motivation for filing the lawsuit as an effort to “…invalidate the criminalization of protected First Amendment activity and to also strip Maui County of any ability to criminally charge anyone who exercises their First Amendment rights.”

This legal action seeks to block attempts from the governor to criminalize the fundamental rights of free speech and press freedom protected by both the US and Hawaii constitution.

OMG’s legal pursuit, lodged in the United States District Court of Hawaii, also encompasses the case of John Doe, another plaintiff. During the investigative visit to the wildfire-struck Lahaina on September 1, 2023, somehow John Doe found himself facing criminal charges for his journalistic activities in the stricken region by Maui County through its Sheriff’s Department (MCSD), despite his legally recognized First Amendment rights.

In the suit, it has been noted that Doe was notified by the MCSD that his journalistic work was not criminalized by a law but through “Emergency Proclamations” issued by Governor Green in response to the Maui wildfires. As a result of this pronouncement, OMG sought clarification on this seemingly perplexing overreach on the rights of Doe and all Hawaiian citizens who demand answers to their growing concerns about the handling of the response to the wildfire and its implications on their lives on the island.

The MCSD then cited HRS § 127A-29(a), which concerns emergency period transgressions, misdemeanors and petty crimes in reference to violations committed by the plaintiff. The lawsuit brought forward by OMG argues that Governor Green lacks the authority to issue his own rules.

In essence, OMG’s lawsuit alleges that the enforcement of the governor’s order, which seemingly curtails constitutional privileges and liberties, violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The experts from OMG allege that the photography ban is not about restricting one form of expression, but a larger undermining of press freedom and the loss of the ability to keep our ruling class in check.

“The First Amendment is a built in ‘check’ on the Government because citizens can openly report government wrongdoing,” the complaint reads. “The freedom of the press acts as a bright beacon of light. It is an essential mechanism through which Americans can hold the government directly accountable. Democracy dies in the darkness.”

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