The Center Square

The Center Square Sues to Open Meetings at Tennessee Judicial Conference

June 13, 2022

(The Center Square)—The executive editor of The Center Square is suing the Director of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts in an attempt to open meetings at the upcoming Tennessee Judicial Conference to members of the public and the press.

The suit contests that a new policy closing meetings at the conference violates the First Amendment because, at the conference, state court judges and committees meet about guidelines for state court policies and rules and the groups also then recommend legislation that directly impacts Tennesseans in the courtroom.

“Banning the press from observing the meetings and providing information to the public is wrong and undermines democratic government,” said Dan McCaleb, plaintiff and executive editor of The Center Square. “This conference is funded by taxpayers and the decisions made there will directly affect them. Tennesseans should be asking why state judges need to meet in secret and keep them in the dark.”

The Center Square, a non-partisan and nonprofit news wire service, is represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting constitutional rights, in the suit.

The suit names Michelle Long, Director of Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, as the defendant after she issued the new policy in February closing the meetings to the public and press.

The Liberty Justice Center is requesting an emergency hearing to block enforcement of the policy before the conference is scheduled to begin on June 15.

“Freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy and blocking reporters from covering judicial proceedings is illegal,” said Buck Dougherty, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “It is in the interest of all Tennesseans that meetings where state court judges set rules, guidelines, and state court policies be open to the public and press. Drafting rules and policies behind closed doors on how citizens are governed in the courtroom violates the U.S. Constitution.”

The judicial conference was created by Tennessee’s General Assembly to require state judges to deliberate on state court policy. The meetings have been conducted openly, with public and press access, for nearly 34 years.