Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Strangers” in the courtroom: An examination of access theory and the public's right to open courts from DePasquale to Richmond
by Fattah, Geoffrey, M.A., The University of Utah, 2011, 104; 1489743
Abstract (Summary)

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mentions no citizen right to access government information. However, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions forged an implied right to access information through the First Amendment. This approach to finding new constitutional rights within the language and spirit of the Constitution shows how our fundamental rights are ever-growing and evolving to adapt to modern needs. The origins of this movement can be traced back to legal and free speech philosophers who insisted that for a democracy to function, its citizenry must be well informed. This thesis is an historic and legal analysis of the Supreme Court’s finding of a right of access through Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, and the one-year period before the ruling in which the Gannett Newspapers v. DePasquale decision caused hundreds of motions for court closures.

In 1980, justices established the press and public have a constitutional right to attend court hearings. However, courts across the nation continue to resist attempts by the public and press to attend hearings, giving little weight to their right of access. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has established that an overriding government interest must be shown to close a court hearing, many judges fail to take the right of access seriously and have chosen to accept flimsy government requests for closure. Given fractured opinions by the justices in Richmond this thesis has identified a need for a clear legal test to judge a right of access. This includes making court access an affirmative right, showing substantial probability of prejudicial harm for closure, considering alternatives to closure, including the right of the public to object and be heard, ensuring the narrow tailoring of any closure order, and limiting the time span of any closure order so the public can access hearing transcripts.

Applying a clear legal test will support the constitutional rights of the public and press to access government information and give clear guidance to judges on how to handle requests for court closure. Clarifying the confusion created by multiple opinions regarding access will maintain transparency of justice and confidence in our courts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Vergobbi, David
Commitee: Feighery, Glen, Mangun, Kimberley, Vergobbi, David
School: The University of Utah
Department: Communication
School Location: United States -- Utah
Source: MAI 49/04M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Journalism, Law, Mass communications
Keywords: Access, Courts, DePasquale, Journalism, Richmond, Right to know
Publication Number: 1489743
ISBN: 978-1-124-53686-6
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