Newspaper loses appeal over Earnhardt photos
By Gina Holland, The Associated Press December 1, 2003
12:41 PM EST (1741 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a student-run newspaper that wanted autopsy photos of race car driver Dale Earnhardt.
The newspaper had challenged the constitutionality of a Florida law passed after Earnhardt's death, barring public access to autopsy pictures.
Dale Earnhardt Credit: ASP
Before the law, Florida had allowed the public to see the photographs for 90 years without any problems, attorney Thomas Julin told justices in a filing on behalf of the Independent Florida Alligator.
He said the access was used to uncover medical examiners' negligence or criminal activities.
The Alligator, an independent newspaper staffed by University of Florida students, sought the photos as questions arose over how the racer died and whether better safety equipment might have saved him.
The seven-time Winston Cup champion died on Feb. 18, 2001, when his car hit the wall on the final turn at the Daytona 500. Doctors said he died instantly from head injuries.
Lawyers for Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, said that the court's ruling against the newspaper did not involve federal constitutional issues and the Supreme Court should stay out of it.
Under the newspaper's interpretation of free speech rights, the lawyers said, "the First Amendment ceases to be a bulwark of freedom, and instead turns it into a nuclear warhead used to eradicate the very freedom it was meant to protect."
Supporters of the law, which has been copied in other states, say the measure protects families from seeing a relative's autopsy photos in newspapers or on the Internet. Under the law, unauthorized viewing or copying of photos can bring a $5,000 fine.
The court is hearing arguments this week in a similar case, involving access to photos taken after the death of Clinton administration White House attorney Vincent Foster.
The case is Campus Communications v. Earnhardt, 03-484.
Yeah sure they want them just for an investigation, they would plaster them all over the paper just to make sales. So glad the High court has made the right decision. I for one, wouldn't like to see the photos. let the man die in piece instead of trying to get a piece of the money pie from his death.