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Media coalition urges high court to review access to FBI whistleblower case

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A coalition of media organizations led by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press this week urged the U.S.…

A coalition of media organizations led by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press this week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a controversial whistleblower case with national security implications in which the public and press were barred from an appellate hearing with no explanation or opportunity to argue for access.

The media coalition argued to the Supreme Court that access to civil cases, especially at the appellate level, is just as important as access to criminal trials, to which the Court has long recognized a First Amendment right of access.

“As cases stemming from the War on Terrorism move through our courts, the distinction between the public interest in access to criminal versus civil cases becomes less relevant,” the coalition argued. “Some of the more important developments are occurring in the civil context, such as the suits brought against the government by individuals implicated in the anthrax attack investigation, espionage investigations at nuclear facilities, and, in the present case, allegations of improper activities within the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The case involved a civil suit brought by former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, who was fired after alleging misconduct at the FBI linguistics office. Her suit was dismissed after the Justice Department successfully invoked the “state secrets” privilege, claiming everything about the case implicated national security.

Her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., which was handled by the ACLU, was closed to the public and press with little notice. The court rejected with no explanation the ACLU’s request and two independent motions to allow public access to the proceedings.

Edmonds is now asking the Supreme Court to review her case, arguing both that the dismissal was unnecessary and improper and that the appellate hearing should not have been closed without a finding that such closure was necessary to protect a compelling governmental interest. The media coalition filed a brief solely on the second issue.

Joining the Reporters Committee in the media coalition were The American Society of Newspaper Editors, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Cable News Network LP, LLLP, Daily News L.P., Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, The New York Times Co., Reuters America LLC, Society of Professional Journalists, and The Washington Post Co.

The brief is available at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20051019-amicusbrie.html