Court Access


court access

Teacher Guide on Court Access


Public access to the judicial system is a necessary element in a constitutional democracy. The idea behind “We the People” — the notion that the people are sovereign — assumes that the people govern their institutions. For the judicial system, that means the public and press must be able to attend proceedings and access records used to determine consequential moments in people’s lives. The Supreme Court has said that this right to access our courts is protected by the First Amendment, with limited but notable exceptions. This Teacher Guide provides an overview of the First Amendment’s promise of open courts and some of the major cases that have shaped this right, along with contemporary clashes over the right of access.

Using the guide

The guide is designed for use in the classroom and should easily fit into undergraduate and graduate courses on media law, the First Amendment, journalism, history and politics. 

This guide is a joint effort of the First Amendment Coalition and First Amendment Watch, a project of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. The author is David L. Hudson, Jr., and features contributions from the staff of both FAW and FAC.

The guide is free and may be disseminated to your students. If you would like a guest lecturer to teach from the guide or have questions about how to incorporate court access into your classroom or another setting, such as a newsroom, contact the FAC staff at For more teacher guides on First Amendment topics, visit First Amendment Watch.