Expanding the Public’s Right to Know: Access to Settlement Records under the First Amendment

By John J. Watkins

A paper by John J. Watkins, spring 1990 fellow, explores a question often confronted by the lower courts: whether the First Amendment right of access extends to settlement agreements and related documents in civil cases. These records are not inconsequential for journalists, argues Watkins. Modern civil litigation involves myriad issues of public importance: corporate and government misconduct, sex and race discrimination, school desegregation, dangerous products, environmental harm, prison reform and voting rights. Although information of interest to the public might surface if a particular case goes to trial, many lawsuits are settled without a trial – and some freedom of information statutes do not apply to the judiciary.

Download the paper (PDF).