“People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.” —Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 572 (1980)
In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment implicitly conveys an affirmative, enforceable right of public access to certain government proceedings and information. MFIA regularly litigates for clients seeking to enforce their First Amendment access rights and pursues impact litigation to establish the full scope of this right beyond access to judicial proceedings and records.
Our current cases include:
BH Media Group d/b/a/ Richmond Times-Dispatch, et al v. Harold W. Clarke (Lethal Injection Virginia): The Clinic represents four media organizations—the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Guardian, the Associated Press, and Gannett—in a constitutional challenge to the secrecy of aspects of executions carried out by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The First Amendment guarantees the public’s right to witness the entirety of executions. But Virginia’s current execution protocol bars witnesses from observing key parts of the process, including the insertion of intravenous lines and the administration of drugs in lethal injection executions. The Clinic has filed a complaint in federal court asking the judge to order Virginia to allow the public to witness the entirety of its administration of the death penalty.
Doyle Lee Hamm v. Alabama The Clinic won an Eleventh Circuit victory requiring the unsealing of Alabama’s lethal injection protocol, which was introduced as a judicial record in a death row inmate’s eighth amendment challenge to his execution. The clinic’s brief was co-authored by clinic co-director David Schulz, staff attorney John Langford, and clinical fellow Charles Crain.
In Re Petition Motion for Order Directing Release of Records (Pentagon Papers grand juries) The Clinic represents author and Harvard historian Jill Lepore as she petitions the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts to unseal the records of two 1971 grand juries empaneled to investigate the distribution of the Pentagon Papers. Clinical lecturers Charles Crain and John Langford ’14 and students Jessica Baker ’20 and Ellis Liang ’19 are working on this matter.
Muhammad Husain v. Gates, 08-cv-01360 (D.D.C.) MFIA represents ProPublica journalist Raymond Bonner in his efforts to assert a constitutional right of access to sealed records in the habeas proceeding brought by the Guantanamo detainee known as Abu Zubaydah.
For a list of previous matters, please see the MFIA Archive.