Case Number: 23-3001
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Client: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Motion to Unseal Filed: Feb. 3, 2023
Background: On Aug. 9, 2022, the FBI executed a warrant to seize the cell phone of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) as part of its investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. After seizing the congressman’s phone, the Justice Department asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for “a necessary second level of judicial permission to begin combing through the records.”
According to Politico, Chief Judge Beryl Howell “granted prosecutors access to Perry’s communications,” but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit later issued a sealed ruling temporarily blocking Judge Howell’s decision.
Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to unseal the appeals court’s order and all briefing in the case, including filings submitted by the government, Perry, and the U.S. House of Representatives. The motion argues that the public has a common law and First Amendment right of access to the orders, briefs, and records in the appeal, subject — at most — to narrowly tailored redactions. It also argues that the public has a powerful interest in evaluating the conduct of its officials and understanding the separation-of-powers issues at stake in the investigation of a sitting congressman.
In addition to seeking the unsealing of the court records, the Reporters Committee requests that oral argument in this case, which is currently scheduled for Feb. 23, 2023, be open to the press and public.
Quote: “[T]he Government seized Congressman Perry’s phone, and the public is entitled to understand the consequential separation-of-powers dispute now unfolding as a result.”
Related: In September 2022, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Pennsylvania news organizations seeking to unseal warrant materials that authorized the seizure of Perry’s devices in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Updates: On Feb. 16, 2023, the D.C. Circuit granted the Reporters Committee’s motion to make oral argument in the case open to the public. On Nov. 29, 2023, the D.C. Circuit granted the Reporters Committee’s motion to unseal records in substantial part, making public many of the records in their entirety and ordering the parties to file redacted versions of the rest.