In United States v. Roe, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) found last year that a court order prohibiting a lawyer from disseminating sealed court records involved in the prosecution of John Doe, an unnamed businessman turned government cooperator, did not violate the attorney’s First Amendment rights. A lower court entered the order after the lawyer (Roe) attached the documents, which were sealed after Doe pleaded guilty in 1998, to a civil racketeering lawsuit the attorney brought against Doe, alleging that he bilked real-estate investors out of millions of dollars.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in support of Roe’s petition, arguing that sealing entire case files and wholly omitting cases from the public docket violates the First Amendment-based right of access to judicial proceedings and records. It urged the Court to hear the case to clarify the high standard by which lower courts may invoke their authority to permit such secrecy. The brief also argued that review by the Supreme Court is particularly important because anecdotal evidence suggests that the blanket sealing order adopted by the lower court in the case at issue is not an anomaly but rather part of a disturbing larger trend.