Briefs & Comments

  • November 18, 2015

    James Stackhouse, a criminal defendant appealing his conviction, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of “[w]hether a criminal defendant’s inadvertent failure to object to a courtroom closure is an ‘intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right’ that affirmatively waives his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, or is instead a forfeiture, which does not wholly foreclose appellate review.” In an amicus brief in support of the importance of open court proceedings, the Reporters Committee that the nearly identical First and Sixth Amendment rights of access to judicial proceedings require trial courts to independently examine whether closure is warranted, regardless of whether the defendant objects.

  • November 12, 2015

    Naji Hamdan, a United States citizen currently living in Lebanon, filed FOIA requests with several government agencies seeking information about their role in his detention and torture in the United Arab Emirates. The District Court dismissed the case, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal. The Reporters Committee submitted a brief in support of Hamdan's petition for en banc rehearing, arguing that the District Court and the panel erroneously applied a highly deferential standard of review to the government's claims that the records requested were exempt from disclosure because they were national security secrets. The amicus brief argued that the plain language of FOIA and the legislative history of the statute require more searching review. Applying the correct standard of review is crucial to ensuring that government claims of national security secrecy do not go unchecked and unscrutinized by the courts.

  • November 10, 2015

    Photographer Paul Raef was charged under California Vehicle Code 40008 for violating general driving laws while having the "intent to capture any type of visual image . . . for a commercial purpose.” When Raef challenged the constitutionality of the law, the California Superior Court found the statute unconstitutional because it targeted First Amendment activity and was overinclusive. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association, and six other amici filed a friend-of-the-court letter with the California Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Reporters Committee argued that Section 40008 is not a law of general applicability and it has more than an incidental effect on speech. Furthermore, amici believe the Court of Appeal erred in giving undue deference to police and prosecutors in enforcing this vague law that can harm traditional journalists.

  • October 21, 2015

    The Reporters Committee submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public hearing on three bills related to the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The testimony argues that no modifications should be made to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act regarding BWC videos, and includes additional information regarding the failure of the Mayor's Office to incorporate the recommendations of the BWC Advisory Group.

  • October 5, 2015

    The First Amendment Coalition sought to recover costs and fees after it received two memoranda from the government in its FOIA case. The district court held that FAC was not eligible to recover fees and costs because a decision in the Second Circuit was the reason one of the memos had been released, and therefore FAC had not "substantially prevailed." In an amicus brief, we argued that the reasons underlying the fee-shifting provision of FOIA serve many purposes, even when multiple parties seek the same information, and Congress's amendments to FOIA have made clear that a party need not secure judicial relief in order to "substantially prevail." Additionally, news, educational, and non-profit organizations play an important role in vindicating the public's right of access to government records, and should be able to rely on the ability to recover fees and costs.

  • September 25, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted comments regarding the proposed updates to the Department of Homeland Security's FOIA regulations. 

  • September 24, 2015

    BuzzFeed has asked the Supreme Court of Missouri to review a trial court judge’s decision to seal the jury list in the high profile criminal case against Michael L. Johnson, accused of recklessly transmitting the HIV virus. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted amicus suggestions in support of BuzzFeed’s petition. In the amicus suggestions, the Reporters Committee argued that jury lists are presumptively open under the First Amendment and that their closure can be justified only upon a showing of a compelling governmental interest. The Reporters Committee further argued that providing the press with access to jury lists increases public confidence by ensuring that the judicial process is conducted in the open and by exposing potential corruption.

  • September 14, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a coalition of media and journalism organizations, has written to the independent French data protection agency urging it to rescind its order that Google search delistings required under the European Union's "right to be forgotten" rule include domains not just in France or Europe, but around the world.

  • September 14, 2015

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a coalition of media and journalism organizations, has written to the independent French data protection agency urging it to rescind its order that Google search delistings required under the European Union's "right to be forgotten" rule include domains not just in France or Europe, but around the world.

  • August 27, 2015

    Davis is challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the Stored Communications Act that permits law enforcement to obtain a court order to compel disclosure of historical location information by a cellular phone service provider. The en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the disclosure was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Davis is seeking a writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. The compelled disclosure of historical location data implicates important First and Fourth Amendment rights. Location data can reveal sensitive, private information, including information about associational and expressive activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Fourth Amendment protections must be applied with particular rigor when First Amendment rights are at stake.

  • August 18, 2015

    The Reporters Committee wrote a letter on behalf of a 39-member media coalition protesting the decision of St. Louis County officials to press charges against several journalists arrested last year covering the events in Ferguson, Mo.

  • August 17, 2015

    CEI submitted a FOIA request to the Office of Science and Technology Policy asking for email its director maintained in a non-government email account. The government argued, and the district court agreed, that it did not have jurisdiction over the FOIA claim because the agency was not "withholding" the email. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Cir.) the Reporters Committee argued that the district court conflated two separate, distinct inquiries in dismissing the FOIA claim, by focusing on whether the information was an "agency record." Given the increasing use of personal emails by government employees, access to such email when it concerns public business is crucial if the public is to be kept informed about what their government is up to.

  • July 24, 2015

    Prosecutors sought a broad gag order against Matthew Clendennen, one of more than 100 motorcycle riders arrested after a May shootout outside a restaurant in Waco, Texas, in which 9 people were killed and 18 injured. The court granted an order preventing all attorneys, their staff, law enforcement, and witnesses who have given statements to law enforcement from talking to the media about Clendennen's case. Clendennen appealed, and an amicus coalition led by the Reporters Committee argued that the gag order violated both the First Amendment and the Texas constitution because it was overbroad and vague. The trial court had made no findings that the news coverage of the incident was inflammatory or prejudicial, focusing instead on the quantity of news coverage.

  • July 22, 2015

    Abdur-Rashid filed a FOIL request with the New York Police Department after the Associated Press reported that the department was conducting surveillance of Muslim communities. The NYPD refused to confirm or deny whether responsive records existed -- which under federal FOIA is known as a "Glomar" response. The trial court accepted the department's argument. The Reporters Committee argued to the N.Y. Supreme Court Appellate Division (1st Dept.) that judicial incorporation of the Glomar doctrine into FOIL would work a profound change to this State's statutory open records regime that was not contemplated or adopted by the Legislature. Allowing state and local agencies to issue Glomar responses will make it more difficult for the press to keep citizens informed about the activities of their government, as journalists routinely rely on FOIL to gain access to important information.

  • June 19, 2015

    The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sought Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data from the City and County of Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act. The City and County contended that all such data was exempt from disclosure as law enforcement records. The City and County prevailed at the trial and appellate court; ACLU and EFF filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of California. We argued that the breadth of the law enforcement exemption, as interpreted by the court of appeal, violated the constitutional obligation to construe exemptions from disclosure narrowly. Broad law enforcement exemptions shield too many records from public disclosure, and construing the Public Records Act to exempt these documents would significantly impair the ability of the press to inform the public about law enforcement activity.