Fourteen ranking academics from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana University, Bloomington, and Butler University, Indiana, including Deans, Professors, Assistant & Associate Professors, and Lecturers in Sociology and Law have filed an Amicus Brief in support of Belfast Project Researchers’ Supreme Court Petition.
The Social Scientists’ brief addresses the continuum of First Amendment interests that flow between journalists and researchers, which are undermined by the confusion of Branzburg. Their brief highlights additional important policies that favor protection of academic research into conflict areas, and the nebulous state of First Amendment law as regards academic freedom.
“Any social science or oral history research is threatened by the potential subpoena of confidential materials, including sensitive or personal information that may or may not involve illegal activity. The threat of unlimited subpoena power undermines the ability of any researcher to promise confidentiality and thus to obtain honest and reliable answers to the most pressing issues of our time………The court of appeals’ decision thus jeopardizes the long-term ability of scholars to gain information regarding profoundly sensitive and controversial subjects, including information that can help society avoid violent conflicts in the future.”
“The result in the case creates potentially crippling uncertainty for those who gather information from confidential sources, including academic researchers like amici. Such researchers need to be able to assure their sources that their confidentiality will be respected and their interests considered by a court of law before the court grants a subpoena and publicizes their private information or personal identity. Without such assurances, many persons will be unwilling to speak with researchers, limiting the scope of social science research and leaving irreparable lacunae in human knowledge.”