Skip to content

In re application of PennLive, York Daily Record, and York Dispatch to Unseal Court Records

Post categories

  1. Court Access

Case Number: 1:22-mc-00756-SES

Court: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Clients: PennLive, York Daily Record, York Dispatch

Application to Unseal Court Records Filed: Sept. 29, 2022

Background: As part of its investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the FBI executed a warrant on Aug. 9, 2022, to seize the cell phone of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) while he was on vacation with his family in New Jersey.

The congressman shared the news of the seizure with Fox News and sued the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking the return of data cloned from his phone. But the warrant materials themselves remain under seal, despite the extensive information about Perry’s involvement in the events under investigation that has already been made public as a result of news reporting and the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On behalf of PennLive, the York Daily Record, and the York Dispatch, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to unseal court records related to the seizure of Perry’s cell phone, including the warrant application, any supporting affidavits, and the docket sheet. The news outlets argue that the press and public have a presumptive common law and First Amendment right of access to the search warrant materials.

Quote: “The seizure of Congressman Perry’s phone is a subject of enormous, legitimate public interest. For one, a search of the property of a sitting Member of Congress is a matter of paramount public concern because it raises unique separation-of-power concerns.”

Related: Reporters Committee attorneys are also seeking to unseal judicial records filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit related to the seizure of Perry’s cellphone as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Reporters Committee attorneys spent more than a year and a half helping the Los Angeles Times make public court records related to the Justice Department’s closed insider-trading investigation of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). In early September 2022, a federal judge ordered the government to file records that revealed much more than what it previously disclosed in heavily blacked out court filings released months earlier — filings the government originally attempted to keep secret entirely.

Update: On Jan. 19, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered the federal government to submit proposed redactions to the search warrant materials, concluding that it had failed to justify sealing them in their entirety. “The United States should be made to do the hard work of going through the warrant materials in detail, and rather than merely presenting general arguments, should be held to its burden of showing that its interests outweigh the presumption of access,” Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab wrote in her opinion. The court based its decision, in part, on the fact that much more information about the underlying investigation into Rep. Scott Perry’s role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election has been made public in recent months, including through a separate case Reporters Committee attorneys are litigating in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. After the government objected to Judge Schwab’s recommendations, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Wilson issued an order on April 15, 2024, that largely adopted the magistrate judge’s ruling in the news outlets’ favor. Judge Wilson concluded that the Justice Department had failed to justify keeping the materials sealed in their entirety and ordered the government to propose targeted redactions. 


2022-09-29: Application to unseal court records

2022-09-29: Memorandum of points and authorities in support of application to unseal court records

2022-10-24: Opposition to government’s motion to seal its response

2023-02-07: Order

2024-01-19: Report and recommendation

2024-04-15: Order

Stay informed by signing up for our mailing list

Keep up with our work by signing up to receive our monthly newsletter. We'll send you updates about the cases we're doing with journalists, news organizations, and documentary filmmakers working to keep you informed.