The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the public and the press have a First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings, and that courts can restrict access only when there is a compelling governmental interest and the restriction is narrowly tailored to serve it. See, e.g., Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 603, 606-07 (1982). The same right of access applies in civil proceedings as well, e.g., Publicker Indus. Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1066-71 (3rd Cir. 1984), though the issue arises far more frequently in criminal cases.
The press has long been the vehicle for enforcing this right. But how does the press — rarely a party to the underlying case — seek appellate review of a trial court’s interlocutory decision denying access to a hearing or sealing confidential documents? Surprisingly, the circuits are split on this question, though they uniformly try to provide a timely appeal, cognizant of the press’s need for immediate access to an ongoing, newsworthy proceeding.
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