For immediate release
John Ensslin, SPJ President, (303) 726-9213,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief defending the Texas Open Meetings Act in a case that could have ramifications on similar statutes across the country.
The brief concerns Asgeirsson v. Abbott, a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. City officials from several cities in Texas have challenged the state’s Open Meetings Act, which ensures the public’s right to attend meetings of city officials. Read the brief here, written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
City officials claim the Texas Open Meetings Act suppresses their free speech because the threat of being charged with criminal violations in connection with the issues discussed compels them not to speak out if their meetings are open. But the law’s only criminal provisions apply to officials who knowingly call, close, participate in or aid a closed meeting. It does not suppress content of public officials’ speech, only the time, manner and place of that speech – restrictions that are widely used and constitutionally sound.
“Open meetings laws serve as crucial protection for an informed public and a free press – cornerstones of an open and accountable democracy,” SPJ President John Ensslin said. “They provide citizens the opportunity to hold elected officials accountable by revealing their actions and agenda.”
A federal trial court ruled that the law does not violate the officials’ First Amendment rights, holding that, in fact, “free discussion is suppressed when city council members close their meetings to the public.” The Texas Open Meetings Act is mirrored across the U.S. Similar challenges to state statutes in Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada have also failed.
If the law is invalidated, SPJ and its co-signers on the amicus brief anticipate widespread opportunities for public officials to meet and make decisions in private, opening the doors for hidden government corruption.
As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined an amicus brief supporting Project Vote in a Freedom of Information case.
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.