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Fifth Circuit Ct. of Appeals Overturns Lower Ct. Ruling That Held Texas’ Drone Statute Unconstitutional

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a lower court ruling that held the Texas drone law unconstitutionally restricted the use of drones in newsgathering.

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) had filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Highway Patrol challenging the 2015 statute after NPPA members were harassed by law enforcement when attempting to take aerial photographs using drones.

In March of 2022, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman held that using drones to create photographs “finds just as much protection in the First Amendment as the images themselves do,” but this week’s Fifth Circuit decision disagreed.

“While drones are no doubt a helpful tool in the journalist’s toolkit, restrictions on drone usage do not trigger strict scrutiny,” the Court said.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals cited the Supreme Court’s landmark Branzburg decision which said “the First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally.”

Stations can review the Court of Appeals decision in more detail here as well as NPPA’s statement to its Texas members.

The NPPA is reviewing its options, one of which could be an appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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