Does the First Amendment guarantee a general ‘right of access’ to government information?

Friday, October 1, 2004

There is no Supreme Court case holding that the First Amendment provides such a guarantee. There is, however, a patchwork of Supreme Court and lower court decisions concerning press and public access to specific types of government-controlled information, institutions and events. In only a few matters have the courts been willing to grant an unqualified First Amendment right of access to the press or public. The Supreme Court has nevertheless recognized that freedom of the press would be “eviscerated” without some form of protection for gathering information and news. (See Branzburg v. Hayes, 1972.)