SCOTUS Denies Cert. in Boston College IRA Subpoena Case

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Dolours Price was, to put it mildly, a controversial figure. According to the New York Times, in her time as a member of the Irish Republican Army, she participated in the 1973 London car-bombings, helped carry out kidnappings and executions of suspected informants, and spoke out against the peace accord reached in the 1990s. It was one of her final acts, however, that brought controversy to the legal system of the United States.

Between 2001 and 2006, Price and a fellow IRA member gave a series of interviews to oral historians at Boston College, with one small condition: the tapes could not be released in their lifetimes. Nonetheless, the British subpoenaed the tapes, citing a treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom that requires the countries to share information that would aid criminal inquiries.

The District Court ordered B.C. to turn over the tapes. The First Circuit initially granted a stay, but later reversed course and ordered the tapes to be turned over, citing the landmark Branzburg v. Hayes decision (holding the reporters may not use the First Amendment as a defense against testifying before a grand jury).

Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer then stepped in and granted another stay late last year. However, the victory was short lived, as SCOTUS denied certiorari earlier this week, reports Jurist. One wonders if the reason for the denied cert was the passing of Ms. Price in January, which makes the case nearly moot (the other interviewee, Brendan Hughes, passed in 2008).

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Despite the passing of Price and Hughes, there release of the tapes is still controversial. Two researchers who worked on the project, and who were the petitioners to the Supreme Court, argue that the release of the tapes could upset the fragile peace in Northern Ireland and place their lives in danger.

Their press release from earlier this week expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court's decision, but still sent a message of hope. Senator Robert Menendez has urged Secretary of State John Kerry to use diplomatic channels to express the concerns that release of the tapes could "re-open fresh wounds and threaten the success of the Good Friday Accords". While the legal battle may have come to a close, the political pressure to suppress the tapes could be building.

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