National Press Club

NPC Supports Amicus on Texas Open Meetings Act

September 4, 2009 | By Donna Leinwand | president@press.org

The National Press Club has joined 22 other news organizations in an amicus brief filed Thursday by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urging the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Texas Open Meetings Act. A three-judge panel earlier this year ruled the law unconstitutional, finding it violated public officials' First Amendment rights because it bars them from communicating secretly about public business.

The brief argues that open meetings laws extend First Amendment rights by assuring that citizens have access to deliberations and oversight of decisions made by elected officials. If the court strikes down the law, elected officials could operate in secret, the Reporters Committee argues. The case will be heard Sept. 24.

"The 5th Circuit panel's decision literally turned open government on its head," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. "When someone makes a decision to run for office, they implicitly agree to subject themselves to laws that require them to transact the public's business in open meetings."

Two former city council members in Alpine, Texas, sued the state on First Amendment grounds after they were indicted for violating the open meetings act. The council members emailed one another about city business.

Along with the National Press Club, ABC, Inc., the American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Bloomberg News, the E.W. Scripps Co., the Hearst Corp., MediaNews Group, the New York Times Co., the Newspaper Association of America, Newsweek Inc., the Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reuters America LLC, the Society of Professional Journalists, Stephens Media LLC, the Student Press Law Center, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, the Texas Press Association, the Tribune Co. and the Washington Post joined in the brief.