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Writer loses bid seeking Ill. press box access

April 27, 2014 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A journalist in residence at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute has appealed a federal court’s guarded dismissal of his lawsuit that claimed state legislative leaders wrongly denied him a media credential for the General Assembly.

U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce on Thursday dismissed Scott Reeder’s lawsuit against House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and their press secretaries, siding with the defendants’ insistence they were protected against such lawsuits by “absolute legislative immunity.” Such immunity precludes judicial review of rulemaking and decisions by anyone in a legislative capacity.

But Bruce wrote he “remains very interested in the motivation behind (the) defendants’ actions regarding Reeder’s access to the press facilities of the Illinois House and Senate,” adding he’ll closely watch the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ interpretation.

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“Should (that court) disagree with this court’s determination that absolute legislative immunity applies to this situation and remand the case, this court would welcome the opportunity to explore the motives behind (the) defendants’ decisions and the opportunity to seek answers to the questions discussed in the introduction to this opinion,” Bruce wrote.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon and Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to comment Sunday, citing Reeder’s unresolved appeal.

A message left Sunday at Reeder’s home in Springfield was not immediately returned.

Reeder, 49, writes columns for the Illinois News Network, which is affiliated with the policy institute. He sued in February, claiming he unfairly was denied access to the Illinois House and Senate’s press boxes after a legislative lawyer said he worked for a lobbying group, not an independent news organization.

Reeder insisted the prohibition against lobbying hasn’t been uniformly applied, and that the institute is a “nonpartisan public-policy research and education organization.”

The defendants countered in court filings that federal case law made clear their internal procedural rules involving press credentials “are fully protected against judicial interference by the doctrine of legislative immunity.”

Bruce concurred with the defendants while acknowledging he has lingering questions about the motives for denying Reeder press credentials, wondering chiefly whether such denials are routine or rare and what the legislative review process in such matters involves. Bruce also said he would like to know whether exceptions or waivers are granted to applicants.