On February 10, the Alliance joined a brief, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arguing that non-attorney access restrictions to court records is an unconstitutional restriction on access to civil court records under the First Amendment. In Courthouse News Service v. Smith, Courthouse News Service (“CNS”) sued over Virginia’s electronic court filing system which only grants attorneys registered in Virginia (and select government agencies) to access the online records. These online records are the same non-confidential records that are made available to the public in person at courthouses (with opening time restrictions) but are not available online to the public. The District Court denied CNS’s motion for summary judgement and entered summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellees. The brief, filed by RCFP, explains the importance of contemporaneous access to civil court records and argues that the restriction is not “content-neutral” but rather amounts to unconstitutional speaker-based discrimination. The case is important to protect the right of journalists and the public to access civil court records under the First Amendment. Read more.
Charlotte McBirney is Senior Counsel and Director, Public Policy for the News/Media Alliance.