NEFAC Argues Against Sealing of Court Records in Harvard College Admissions, Civil Rights Case

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued against the sealing of summary judgment filings in a federal court case involving the admissions practices of Harvard College.

In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, a group of Asian-American applicants to the university is accusing the school of bias. NEFAC is not taking a position on the merits of the case but is instead objecting to Harvard’s request that all its filings be kept secret.

“The presumption in favor of access to judicial records sets a high bar before any part of a summary judgment filing may be sealed,” NEFAC argued in an April 6 amicus brief. “The First Circuit has held that the presumptively paramount right of the public to know the content of judicial records in civil cases may be overcome for only the most compelling reasons.”

Attorney Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty wrote the brief on behalf of NEFAC, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and GateHouse Media. Schutz is also a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors.

In the brief, NEFAC explained that judicial transparency – including access to summary judgment filings – serves vital public interests. The coalition also offered several alternatives the court could order other than sealing judicial documents.

“The Supreme Court has recognized the beneficial effects of public scrutiny upon the administration of justice borne out of the presumption of openness in judicial matters,” Schutz wrote, citing Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980). “People in an open society do not expect infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.”

NEFAC regularly drafts and joins amicus briefs to defend First Amendment freedoms. Most recently the coalition argued for timely access to juror identities and against indiscriminate record sealing. The coalition has also advocated 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 include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.