Ga. Supreme Court affirms court access but requires reconsideration of opinion

A recent ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court declared the public’s right of access to judicial proceedings “indisputable.” But the Court also declined to approve a 2013 Judicial Qualifications Commission advisory opinion that directed judges to keep courtrooms open in most cases.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation strongly supported the JQC advisory opinion that a judge only could close a courtroom under extraordinary circumstances — and only after making a finding on why closure was necessary. In 2014, we recognized the JQC for the opinion, which immediately resulted in unobstructed public access to courts throughout the state. We also filed amicus briefs with the Georgia Supreme Court during its review of the JQC opinion.

We are disappointed that the Court did not endorse the broad First Amendment protections spelled out in the JQC’s advisory opinion. But we are pleased that the Court’s ruling emphasizes the public’s undeniable right to open judicial proceedings.

The effect of the Court’s Nov. 30 ruling is that the advisory opinion returns to the JQC for reconsideration. We will continue to promote open courts and access for Georgia citizens, and we will actively encourage the JQC to issue a revised opinion that advises judges to adhere to this important right.

Check out news reports about the ruling from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Albany Herald, Daily Report and WSB-TV.