NEFAC Helps Fight for Immediate Access to Civil Court Documents in Seventh Circuit

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called for the immediate release of civil court documents, arguing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that access to such documents is of “substantial public interest.”

NEFAC joined 40 media organizations and press advocates in signing an amicus curiae brief drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and filed April 19 in Courthouse News Service v. Brown.

The coalition joined similar briefs in 2014, 2016 and 2017. It also fought against a practice in Vermont of delaying public access to lawsuits filed in state court.

“Not only is contemporaneous access to civil complaints constitutionally required, but it also greatly benefits the public,” argued NEFAC in the Courthouse brief. “The press and the public have a right to learn about the matters consuming judicial resources and occupying space on the dockets of courts.”

In their brief, NEFAC and fellow amici argued the following:

· The First Amendment affords the public a contemporaneous right of access to newly filed civil complaints.
· Contemporaneous access to civil complaints benefits the public and the press. Even brief delays can be detrimental.
· The profit motive of a publisher and its readership are irrelevant to the constitutional right of access.

“The public has the right to immediate access of court documents,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “We hope courts in New England will pay attention to this case and continue to honor that right.”

The brief is the latest effort by NEFAC to protect First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know.

Earlier this month, NEFAC condemned efforts to force a New Hampshire journalist to disclose his interview notes, fought against secrecy in the Nathan Carman probate case and filed its own amicus brief rejecting secrecy in a civil rights case involving Harvard College’s admissions practices. The coalition also recently demanded timely access to juror identities and argued against indiscriminate record sealing.

Learn more about NEFAC’s work here.

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.