Update: The Associated Press has updated its earlier story with coverage from today’s oral arguments. Check it out! I’ll be watching out for the 5th Circuit’s opinion and I’ll try to write another blog post then. It’ll be quite a while before they decide, I assume.
The Associated Press reports the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today will hear oral arguments in a suit that challenges the open meetings act.
The 2009 suit, filed by 15 city leaders from around Texas, contends the act violates elected officials’ free speech rights by preventing them from speaking in public or private on issues facing their constituents.
The office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the law prevents government by secret.
The suit is before the appeals court after a West Texas federal judge last year ruled the law doesn’t muzzle the First Amendment right to free speech.
A blog post by Austin lawyer James R. Bailey explains more about the plaintiffs’ legal arguments before the 5th Circuit:
Several members of city councils of various Texas cities have sued the Texas Attorney General alleging that TOMA violates the First Amendment because it limits their ability to speak freely and openly about public business. Essentially, they argue that because of the threat of criminal penalties, the council members are restrained from speaking about public business outside of a meeting of the governmental body, and that imposes an unconstitutional prior restraint on their First Amendment rights.
About a year ago, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote a blog post about the March 2011 federal appeals court ruling in the case. That court ruled the open meetings act “does not violate the constitutional free speech rights of city officials by requiring them to conduct meetings in public.”
I’m hoping the 5th Circuit upholds the lower appeals court’s opinion! As a journalist it’s invaluable to have access to politicians’ robust debate about the public’s business.