The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum erred in refusing the media access to individual questioning of jurors.
“We do not see anything in the district court’s findings, other than perhaps the degree of media coverage, that differentiates this case from any other high-profile prosecution,” the appeals court wrote. “The mere fact that the suit has been the subject of intense media coverage is not, however, sufficient to justify closure.”
The three-judge appeals panel said that “to hold otherwise would render the First Amendment right of access meaningless.” It noted that openness of the court process “acts to protect, rather than to threaten, the right to a fair trial.”
Seventeen media organizations, including The Associated Press, had argued that high public interest should not close jury selection.
Attorney David A. Schulz, who argued before the appeals court on behalf of the media, praised Wednesday’s ruling as “a ringing endorsement of the basic value of openness.”
“We have public trials because we firmly believe public knowledge of what happens in the courtroom is a good thing,” he said.
The appeals court said it knew its ruling was too late to make a difference in the Stewart trial, which began last month. But it said the issues likely would arise in future trials and were too important to overlook.