Write Like You’re Running Out of Time: Prepublication Review, Retroactive Classification, and Intermediate Scrutiny
The Constitution’s promises of freedom of speech and common defense can, at times, be at odds. One acute example of that tension is the prepublication review process, by which the government reviews written works by certain current and former employees to ensure that they do not contain classified or other sensitive information. While this process surely has its merits in preserving national security, it also presents authors with a bureaucratic thicket that is often difficult to navigate. This process is further complicated by the fact that the government can retroactively classify documents, meaning that information that authors might have thought was fair game is instead withdrawn from the public domain. The Supreme Court has addressed prepublication review only once, in Snepp v. United States. There, the Court validated the constitutionality of prepublication review but failed to articulate its reasoning in terms of established First Amendment doctrine. This Comment clarifies the standard of review applicable to prepublication review as an articulation of intermediate scrutiny.
Once that standard of review is established, this Comment applies it to the prepublication review process. With regard to substance, this Comment argues that, under intermediate scrutiny, the government does not have a sufficient national security justification to censor unclassified information during the prepublication review process. With regard to procedure, this Comment recommends that retroactive classification decisions during the prepublication review process should be subject to document-by-document review, that the burden-shifting framework to determine whether information is sufficiently public should begin by placing the onus on the government, and that authors’ legal claims arising from the process should not be mooted by completion of the review. Taken together, these clarifications and adjustments would subtly alter incentives to ensure that the prepublication review process equitably balances the interests of both the government and authors.