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Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia

    Citation. 22 Ill.448 U.S. 555, 100 S. Ct. 2814, 65 L. Ed. 2d 973, 6 Med. L. Rptr. 1833 (1980)

    Brief Fact Summary. Two newsmen, who were closed out of a criminal trial, brought suit seeking a declaration of their rights to attend the trial under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case created a brightline rule, that without proper justification, a reporter cannot be kept out of a criminal trial.


    Facts. During the course of a trial, which had ended in three previous mistrials, counsel for the defendant asked that the proceedings be closed to the public, which excluded the presence of the press.

    Issue. This case considered whether the freedom of the press necessarily carries with it a right to attend criminal trials and a right of access to the trial itself, in pursuit of information.

    Held. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that a right to attend a criminal trial was implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
    In supporting its holding, the Supreme Court extended the freedoms associated with the First Amendment of the Constitution to include a freedom of communication on matters relating to the functioning of the government. The judicial process, in itself, is a function of government and thus, to deny press access to a trial is to deny the right to speak and publish concerning the events at trial.

    Dissent. Judge William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) dissented, maintaining that where both a prosecutor and defense counsel agree to the closure of a trial, their wishes should be heeded in the interest of their clients.
    Concurrence. Judge John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) concurred that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects the public and the press from abridgment of their rights to access information about the operation of the government, which is inclusive of the Judicial Branch. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart) also concurred, noting that a trial judge should be afforded latitude in determining the capacity of his courtroom.

    Discussion. The crux of the principals outlined in this case is that the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a right of access to the government and as the court is an extension thereof, the press (and members of the public) should not be excluded from the judicial process.

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