Aren’t open-meetings laws unconstitutional? After all, don’t they infringe upon the speech of the members of governing bodies?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

State courts around the nation have consistently ruled against numerous plaintiffs’ claims that open-meetings laws are unconstitutional. A few examples of such rulings include:

  • In Tennessee, the courts have held that the Open Meetings Act, by requiring that any deliberation by a governing body toward an official decision must be conducted openly, does not infringe upon the free-speech rights of members of governing bodies and does not exercise a chilling effect upon free expression. Dorrier v. Dark, 537 S.W.2d 888 (1976).

  • In Texas, a federal judge upheld the state’s open-meetings law after several city government employees challenged the law. The plaintiffs claimed that the law was unconstitutionally vague and that it violated their freedom of speech because they were barred from discussing public issues in private. U.S. District Judge Robert Junell held that the plaintiffs “failed to show that the Texas Open Meetings Act is unconstitutionally vague … in all its applications.” Jim Todd, the state’s lead attorney in this case, said Junell’s ruling “preserves the status quo. … It preserves the protections that the [Open Meetings Act] provides to the public and avoids the danger of losing those protections.” Rangra v. Brown, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85833, 2006 WL 3327634 (W.D. Tax., 2006).