Secret Courts

This section covers access to courts. Courtrooms traditionally have been open to the public, but judges often close proceedings or seal documents when they feel secrecy is justified. This section also covers state and federal laws governing camera coverage of trials.

Colorado Independent v. District Court

October 26, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 47 media organizations filed an amici brief in support of The Colorado Independent's petition for cert to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case addressing whether a qualified First Amendment right of access applies to criminal court records.

National Rife Association v. Bondi

September 28, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 21 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Defendants-Appellees after the National Rifle Association and two anonymous individual plaintiffs appealed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' petition to permit the anonymous individual plaintiffs to proceed in the litigation under pseudonyms. The amicus brief argues that permitting the two individual plaintiffs to proceed using pseudonyms would hinder the ability of the press to report on this case because maintaining their anonymity would likely require the court to redact or seal filings and/or close the courtroom during proceedings, contrary to the presumptions of public access guaranteed by both the First Amendment and common law.


Perry v. Hollingsworth

August 8, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 35 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Intervenor-Appellee KQED, Inc., which is seeking access to a video recording of the 2010 trial before the Northern District of California over the constitutionality of Proposition 8.  The district court ordered that the videotape recordings could be released in 2020, unless, at that time, the proponents of sealing can show a compelling reason, narrowly-tailored, that would justify keeping them under seal.  The proponents appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Los Angeles Times Communications v. USDC-CALA

July 16, 2018

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of 59 media organizations submitted an amicus letter in support of the Los Angeles Times in its challenge to a prior restraint issued by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Los Angeles Times published a story about a plea agreement that it obtained from the PACER system.  The plea agreement was supposed to be sealed and had apparently been filed publicly by mistake.  The district court granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Los Angeles Times from publishing information about the plea agreement and ordered the removal of any article about the plea agreement that had already been published before the court issued its order. The Los Angeles Times filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the 9th Circuit.

Cohen v. United States

June 7, 2018

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news organizations filed a letter in the Michael Cohen search warrant case in the Southern District of New York.  The letter objects to a motion by Cohen and intervenors President Donald Trump and The Trump Organization to file their objections to a special master's recommendations under seal and ex parte.  The media coalition agreed with the federal prosecutor in the case that Cohen and the intervenors should be permitted to redact and file under seal only those portions of their submissions that would reveal the substance of documents over which they continue to assert attorney-client privilege and work product privilege.  The letter also stresses the importance of protecting the public's right of access in this high profile case.

Comments to Maine Supreme Judicial Court

December 15, 2017
The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court regarding the implementation of policies governing electronic access to court records. The comments expressed concerns with recommendations that electronic access by the public be limited to only court-generated documents, and urged the Court to permit electronic access by the public to all judicial records filed in Maine Courts.

Courthouse News Service v. Brown

April 19, 2018

RCFP and a coalition of media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Seventh Circuit in support of Courthouse News Service's efforts to require the Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court to fulfill its First Amendment obligations related to access to newly filed civil complaints. The district court granted CNS a preliminary injunction ordering the circuit court clerk to provide contemporaneous access to the documents, and the clerk appealed the injunction. RCFP's brief argues that the First Amendment right of access requires the clerk to provide contemporaneous access to newly filed civil complaints before processing. In addition, the brief argues that timely access to civil complaints benefits the public and that CNS's profit motive and readership are irrelevant to the determination of the First Amendment right of access.


In re Certification of Questions of Law to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review

February 23, 2018

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR).  The ACLU and MFIA are seeking access to certain judicial opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  Before the FISCR is a certified question of law from the FISC regarding whether the ACLU and MFIA have standing to bring their motion to unseal.  The amicus brief supports the ACLU and MFIA's position that they have standing to seek access to the FISC's judicial opinions and argues that parties should not have to show that the First Amendment right of access applies to a particular record or proceeding to demonstrate standing.  The amicus brief also highlights the interests of the press, which frequently bring First Amendment right of access claims, and the public interest in access to FISC opi

Doe v. Doe (In re Fayetteville Observer)

February 19, 2018

The Reporters Committee joined a media coalition amicus brief in support of The Fayetteville Observer's motion to unseal a totally sealed civil case in North Carolina state court, in which everything in the case file, including the docket, identities of the parties and their counsel, and the sealing orders themselves, were under seal.  The trial court denied the motion, and the newspaper appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  The amicus brief argues that the wholesale sealing of the case violates the North Carolina and U.S. consitutions and is contrary to North Carolina precedent.  The amicus brief also argues that courts in other judisdictions have reversed similarly broad sealing orders and that the total sealing of this case undermines public confidence in the judicial system.  The brief was drafted by attorneys from Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC.

CNS v. Yamasaki

January 8, 2018

RCFP filed an application for leave to re-file its previously accepted amicus brief in Courthouse News Service v. Yamasaki.  Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed suit against the Orange County clerk of court to challenge delays in the release of newly filed civil complaints.  RCFP filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition in support of CNS's motion for a preliminary injunction. Yamasaki has now filed a motion for summary judgment. RCFP's application asks the Court to consider its previously-filed amicus brief in support of CNS when determining the motion for summary judgment.