Courts have long recognized a general common law right of access to courtroom proceedings' and court records. Recently, however, courts have begun to consider whether the first amendment of the Constitution protects this right of access. In 1980 the United States Supreme Court in Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia held that the press and the public have a first amendment right to attend criminal trials. The Supreme Court found this right implicit in the various clauses of the first amendment. Although the Supreme Court has taken few opportunities since Richmond Newspapers to define precisely the contours of the first amendment right of access, the United States Courts of Appeals have expressed a willingness to extend this right beyond its application to the criminal courtroom. One circuit has expressly concluded that the first amendment protects the right of access to criminal court records." Circuit courts also have held that the first amendment protects the public's right to attend civil trials. More recently, several circuits have extended first amendment protections even further to cover the right of access to civil court records.
This Recent Development considers whether the first amendment grants to the press and the public a right of access to civil court records. Part II examines the cases that led to the current debate over the constitutional right to inspect and copy civil court records. Part III discusses the five recent circuit court opinions that have considered whether the press and the public have a first amendment right of access to civil court records. Part IV argues that this recent trend adopted by the majority of circuit court opinions is inappropriate in light of current constitutional theory.Finally, Part V suggests a common law balancing approach for courts to apply when considering access questions.
Ronald D. May,
Public Access to Civil Court Records: A Common Law Approach,
39 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol39/iss5/6