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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued against indiscriminately sealing and redacting court filings, saying the practice undermines the public’s right to know.
“[A]ccess to judicial documents is essential to the fostering of a well-informed citizenry and the integrity of our judicial system,” wrote NEFAC and other First Amendment advocates in a Sept. 20 amicus brief.
The brief — drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — was filed in Giuffre v. Maxwell, a case in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit has jurisdiction in six districts within the states of Connecticut, New York and Vermont.
The case involves an order by the Southern District of New York that allowed parties to file vast numbers of judicial records under seal or redacted entirely as a matter of course and without any judicial oversight. It’s a practice, amici argued, that has severe First Amendment and freedom of information implications.
“Public access to judicial proceedings and records allows the public to observe and monitor the workings of the federal judiciary,” according to the brief. This access provides judges with critical views of their work, deters arbitrary judicial behavior and promotes confidence in the conscientiousness, reasonableness and honesty of judicial proceedings.
The broad sealing orders permitted in this case, however, “allow parties to conduct litigation in secret” and “undermine the important benefits of access and openness,” amici explained.
NEFAC regularly drafts and joins amicus briefs to defend First Amendment freedoms. Most recently, the coalition argued for immediate access to civil court documents, access to private email accounts under Vermont’s public records law, the right to record police activity and the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.