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SPJ Supports Petition to Supreme Court Asking for Openness in Civil Cases


For Immediate Release

Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744, daeikens@stcloud.gannett.com
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211, sleadingham@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case seeking to extend the constitutional right of access to court records and proceedings in civil cases.

SPJ has signed on to an amicus brief, initiated and authored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in support of a petition filed by the New York Law Publishing Company, The Legal Intelligencer and the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, which have requested to intervene and challenge a seven-year blanket closure of all filings and proceedings in a case pending in federal court in Pennsylvania. A similar news release from the Reporters Committee, as well as a link to the brief, is available here.

At the center of the request to the Supreme Court is a previous ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in the case Jane Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus. The case, which had proceeded in trial court for seven years in complete secrecy, came to the public’s attention when the appeals court reversed a Pennsylvania district court’s ruling that denied Doe’s claim of gender-based employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Although the appeals court overruled the lower court, it upheld the case’s sealing without any analysis of the public’s right to know.

The petitioners have asked the Supreme Court to consider whether such a veil of secrecy in civil cases violates a fundamental right to information under the First Amendment. In supporting the petition through an amicus brief, SPJ is urging the court to hear the case. SPJ is not taking a position on the merits of the original claim of employment discrimination. Rather, as an organization that advocates for freedom of information and the constitutional rights of journalists, SPJ is asking the Court to make sure all civil cases, regardless of the ruling, remain open and accessible to the public.

A number of other journalism and freedom of information-related organizations are joining SPJ in the amicus brief, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; National Public Radio; the New York Times; The Associated Press; Bloomberg News, L.P.; and the E.W. Scripps Company, among many others.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well- informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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