November 2, 2010 1:08PM

Court Enforces Secrecy about Constitutional Abuses

The purpose of filing amicus briefs is to bring to courts’ attention certain supplemental arguments or relevant facts that go beyond those which the parties present. It is also to show that a particular group — ranging from policy activists and think tanks to industry groups to ad hoc collections of academics to companies and organizations that would be directly affected by the case — has a particular interest in a case, as well as educating the public about important issues. Cato files its briefs for all these reasons, and we’ve found them to be an effective method of spreading our message, both in court and in the “court of public opinion.”

Now, imagine if, after filing a brief, you discover that the court has “sealed” it — meaning removed it from public view or access — precisely because your goal “is clearly to discuss in public [your] agenda.” As Adam Liptak describes in a troubling New York Times column today, that’s the situation facing our friends at the Institute for Justice and Reason Foundation in a case before the Tenth Circuit (the federal appellate court based in Denver).

I won’t regurgitate the column here, but suffice it to say that the IJ/​Reason brief shines a spotlight on various abuses by the Kansas U.S. attorney office, and supports a case in which the federal district court in Topeka has come down hard on an activist who thinks the government is too aggressive in prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medications. As my friend and IJ lawyer Paul Sherman is quoted as saying, “It’s a profound problem. We want to bring attention to important First Amendment issues but cannot share the brief that most forcefully makes those arguments.”

Read the whole thing.