APPEALS FILED IN OPEN MEETINGS CHALLENGE
On April 24, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released its long-awaited opinion in the City of Alpine Open Meetings Act lawsuit - Avinash Rangra, Anna Monclova, and All Other Public Officials in Texas v. Frank D. Brown, 83rd Judicial District Attorney, and the State of Texas. (See article in the April 30, 2009, issue of the TML Legislative Update.)
After the opinion was released, both the Texas attorney general and the city officials filed motions for rehearing En Banc (by all the members of the court). The Texas attorney general has received amicus support from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and the attorneys general of 18 states. The Texas Municipal League, the Texas City Attorneys Association, the South Dakota Municipal League, the Illinois Municipal League, the National League of Cities, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association joined together to file an amicus brief in support of the city officials. That brief argues that the threat of imprisonment is not the least restrictive means of promoting open government.
A May 17, 2009, article in the Austin American Statesman lamented the appellate courts decision. Specifically, the article stated that "[t]he strict scrutiny standard, recognizing that free speech is a cornerstone of civil rights, is designed to negate most government attempts to limit speech. And that's what has open-government advocates worried." It would appear from that statement and those in amicus briefs that the media support the First Amendment when it benefits them but, in this case at least, oppose it when it would benefit city officials.
League staff will follow the case and report on future developments.