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U.S. Supreme Court

Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Ct., 457 U.S. 596 (1982)

Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court

No. 81-611

Argued March 29, 1982

Decided June 23, 1982

457 U.S. 596


Appellee Massachusetts trial court, relying on a Massachusetts statute providing for exclusion of the general public from trials of specified sexual offenses involving a victim under the age of 18, ordered the exclusion of the press and public from the courtroom during the trial of a defendant charged with rape of three minor girls. Appellant newspaper publisher challenged the exclusion order, and ultimately, after the trial had resulted in the defendant's acquittal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court construed the Massachusetts statute as requiring, under all circumstances, the exclusion of the press and public during the testimony of a minor victim in a sex-offense trial.


1. The fact that the exclusion order expired with completion of the trial at which the defendant was acquitted does not render the controversy moot within the meaning of Art. III. The controversy is "capable of repetition, yet evading review," since it can reasonably be assumed that appellant will someday be subjected to another order relying on the Massachusetts statute, and since criminal trials are typically of short duration. Pp. 457 U. S. 602-603.

2. The Massachusetts statute, as construed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, violates the First Amendment as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 457 U. S. 603-607.

(a) To the extent that the First Amendment embraces a right of access to criminal trials, it is to ensure that the constitutionally protected "discussion of governmental affairs" is an informed one. The right of access to criminal trials in particular is properly afforded protection by the First Amendment both because such trials have historically been open to the press and public and because such right of access plays a particularly significant role in the functioning of the judicial process and the government as a whole. Pp. 457 U. S. 603-606.

(b) The right of access to criminal trials is not absolute, but the circumstances under which the press and public can be barred are limited. The State must show that denial of such right is necessitated by a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Pp. 457 U. S. 606-607.

Page 457 U. S. 597

3. The Massachusetts statute cannot be justified on the basis of either the State's interest in protecting minor victims of sex crimes from further trauma and embarrassment or its interest in encouraging such victims to come forward and testify in a truthful and credible manner. Pp. 457 U. S. 607-610.

(a) Compelling as the first interest is, it does not justify a mandatory closure rule. Such interest could be just as well served by requiring the trial court to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the State's legitimate concern for the minor victim's wellbeing necessitates closure. Such an approach ensures that the constitutional right of the press and public to gain access to criminal trials will not be restricted except where necessary to protect the State's interest. Pp. 457 U. S. 607-609.

(b) The second asserted interest is not only speculative in empirical terms, but is also open to serious question as a matter of logic and common sense. Although the statute was construed to bar the press and public from the courtroom during a minor sex victim's testimony, the press is not denied access to the transcript, court personnel, or any other source that could provide an account of such testimony, and thus the statute cannot prevent the press from publicizing the substance of that testimony, as well as the victim's identity. Pp. 457 U. S. 609-610.

383 Mass. 838, 423 N.E.2d 773, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 457 U. S. 611. BURGER, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 612. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 457 U. S. 620.

Page 457 U. S. 598

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