Win for Transparency: Tennessee Federal Court Orders Judicial Advisory Commission to Open Meetings to Reporters

March 22, 2023

On March 22, in a win for transparency and the public’s First Amendment right of access to state court rulemaking meetings, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction ordering Tennessee’s judicial Advisory Commission to open its meetings to the public. Dan McCaleb, executive editor of online news organization The Center Square, filed a complaint in June of last year against Michelle Long, Director of Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”), to open the meetings. McCaleb, an award-winning editor and veteran journalist, argued that the First Amendment right of press access to government meetings applies to the Advisory Commission’s meetings, which had been closed to the public and press. The Tennessee Supreme Court established the Advisory Commission and appoints members to recommend court rules of practice and procedure.

In the court’s ruling, Judge Eli Richardson wrote that “the Court will require that the AOC under Defendant’s direction must open the meetings to the public either by livestreaming or by allowing in-person attendance.” Judge Richardson reasoned that the Advisory Committee meetings are analogous to the federal courts’ “Standing Committee” on federal court rule changes, which have been open to the public “for 40 years.” The judge wrote that opening Advisory Commission meetings to the public “not only creates transparency and public confidence, it likely creates better rules.”

In welcoming the District Court’s ruling, Dan McCaleb said, “A democracy only works when government—all three branches of government, including the judiciary—operates in the open. Because of this ruling, the Tennessee judiciary is now more open to public scrutiny.”

Buck Dougherty, Senior Attorney for Liberty Justice Center said, “We’re very pleased with the District Court’s opinion and proud to represent Dan McCaleb and The Center Square in this important and groundbreaking First Amendment right of access case for the public and press.” He added that “This decision upheld a principle that courts have long recognized: Democracies die behind closed doors.”

The Liberty Justice Center’s filings in the case are available here.


For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact us.