Conservative Journalist Successfully Sues State of Minnesota for Access to Coronavirus Briefings

State officials buckle, allowing PowerLine's Scott Johnson to join media briefings

November 17, 2020

A conservative journalist barred from Minnesota's daily coronavirus briefings successfully sued the state to regain access.

In a settlement signed Friday, Minnesota's Department of Health agreed to reinstate PowerLine cofounder Scott Johnson's access to the state's COVID-19 Conference Line "as long as and whenever" the department holds a briefing.

Johnson sued the Department of Public Health when he was barred from their conference line in May without explanation. Johnson had until then participated in the calls and posed questions skeptical of Democratic governor Tim Walz's approach to combating the coronavirus. Health department officials also stopped responding to Johnson's written inquiries. Those officials told the Washington Free Beacon that the briefings were limited to "professional journalists," but did not offer a definition of the term.

In his lawsuit, Johnson argued that the state had discriminated against him on the basis of political ideology and demanded to be included in the briefings. The Minnesota Department of Public Health declined to comment on the settlement agreement.

Johnson has been critical of the state's handling of the pandemic, challenging Walz's decision to keep the state shut down in April given that, at the time, more than 80 percent of Minnesota's coronavirus deaths occurred in nursing homes and residential care facilities. That number dipped to more than 70 percent as of mid-October, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Johnson, a retired attorney and accredited reporter, argued that his exclusion constituted "an ongoing deprivation ... [of his] First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution."

Friday's settlement acknowledges his exclusion from the briefings and guarantees him immediate access: Health department communications director Michael Schommer is required under the agreement to answer up to three of Johnson's pandemic-related questions per week.

Disclosure: Johnson is the father of Free Beacon editor in chief Eliana Johnson.