confers a right of access to governmental information in the context presented here.
In light of the absence of direct precedential support of plaintiff's position, a review of recent Supreme Court decisions is instructive on this issue. The issue of whether there is a First Amendment right of access to governmental information has been presented to the Supreme Court in a variety of contexts since the Court's pronouncement that "news gathering is not without its First Amendment protections." Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 707, 33 L. Ed. 2d 626, 92 S. Ct. 2646 (1972).
In the prison setting, the Court has rejected the press' contentions that journalists have a right to conduct face-to-face interviews with specific inmates. See Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 94 S. Ct. 2800, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495 (1974) (Constitution does not require government to accord press special access to information not open to public generally); Saxbe v. Washington, 417 U.S. 843, 41 L. Ed. 2d 514, 94 S. Ct. 2811 (1974) (prohibition of personal interviews with inmates does not abridge freedom of press that First Amendment guarantees).
Later, in Houchins v. KQED, 438 U.S. 1, 57 L. Ed. 2d 553, 98 S. Ct. 2588 (1978), the Court, again in a prison context, denied the media's challenge to a county prison's decision to close its doors and deny access to an area of the prison in which an inmate had committed suicide. Indeed, in Houchins, the Chief Justice writing the plurality opinion stated: "Neither the First Amendment nor the Fourteenth Amendment mandates a right of access to governmental information or sources of information within the government's control." Id. at 15. Justice Stewart, concurring, wrote: "The First and Fourteenth Amendments do not guarantee the public a right of access to information generated or controlled by government, nor do they guarantee the press any basic right of access superior to that of the public generally." Id. at 16.
In Gannett Co., Inc. v. Depasquale, 443 U.S. 368, 61 L. Ed. 2d 608, 99 S. Ct. 2898 (1979) the issue arose in the context of criminal trials. While upholding the trial judge's decision to exclude press and public from a pretrial hearing on a motion to suppress alleged involuntary confessions of defendants charged with robbery and murder, the court found it unnecessary to decide whether the First Amendment conferred a right to attend criminal trials.
This question was decided in Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 65 L. Ed. 2d 973, 100 S. Ct. 2814 (1980) when a plurality of the Court held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments did confer a right, although not absolute, upon the press and public to attend criminal trials. Two years later, in Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 102 S. Ct. 2613, 73 L. Ed. 2d 248 (1982) the holding of Richmond Newspapers, supra, was re-affirmed when a majority of the court held that a Massachusetts statute, which required mandatory exclusion of press and public during the testimony of a minor sexually-abused victim, violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Justice Brennan wrote:
Two features of the criminal justice system, emphasized in the various opinions in Richmond Newspapers, together serve to explain why a right of access to criminal trials in particular is properly afforded by the First Amendment. First, the criminal trial historically has been open to the press and general public. . . . Second, the right of access to criminal trials plays a particularly significant role in the functioning of the judicial process and the government as a whole. Public scrutiny of a criminal trial enhances the quality and safeguards the integrity of the fact finding process, with benefits to both the defendant and to society as a whole.