Second Circuit: First Amendment access to judicial documents applies to civil complaints

The court of appeals this week affirmed a district court's decision to unseal a complaint even though the case settled within two weeks after it was filed. Of note, the Second Circuit held that the public is entitled to access civil complaints not just under the common law right of access but also under the First Amendment, which imposes a heavy burden on those seeking judicial secrecy.

The Second Circuit also reiterated the rule, which I think is correct but not necessarily intuitive, that a court, when analyzing the status of a document under the constitutional and common law rights of access, should consider the role of this type of document in the judicial process generally, not whether this particular judge relied on this particular document in this particular case. Accordingly, the public is no less entitled to see a complaint in a case that settled than in a case in which the court granted judgment on the pleadings. And judges need not wait until the end of a case to evaluate the role each document actually played so that they can determine the strength of the public's right to access it.

Read the decision here.

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