Reporters Committee amicus brief: Public's First Amendment right to access judicial proceedings prohibits overbroad sealing of court records

News | September 20, 2017
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 18 media organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit urging it to unseal court records in the case of Guiffre v. Maxwell
 
The brief argues that the district court violated the public’s First Amendment right to access court records when it allowed a vast number of records in the case to routinely be filed under seal or redacted in their entirety without first undergoing review to determine if there was a compelling reason to keep the information private. 
 
“The judicial system has a responsibility to consider the individual merits of requests to keep information from the public to ensure the laws allowing for some court records to be kept secret are not abused,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “When the courts allow records to be sealed wholesale without first scrutinizing them individually to determine if there’s a compelling reason to keep the information from public view, courts can operate in secret and prevent the public from holding them accountable.”
 
The brief notes that court records are a valuable source of information for journalists to inform the public about matters of public interest before the judicial system, and that broadly sealing records results in a less informed citizenry and erodes public confidence in the justice system. The brief highlights that the public had a significant and legitimate interest in the records from this case in particular, which concern highly publicized allegations of sexual abuse and trafficking of minors.
 
The full coalition brief is available here.