First Amendment vs. freedom of information law

Sometimes the First Amendment guarantees access to public records (generally limited to court records). Often Freedom of Information Acts and Public Records Acts are seen as fulfilling broader First Amendment values, by facilitating speech about how the government operates. But in Thursday's Roe v. Anderson (W.D. Wash. Oct. 23, 2014), a federal district judge relied on the First Amendment to block a state public records request.

Washington law requires 'erotic dancers' to get licenses, and the Washington Public Records Act apparently mandates the release of licenses generally, including these licenses. But the dancers, the district judge held, 'have raised serious questions regarding whether' this violates their First Amendment rights, because revealing their names and other personal information can expose them to 'harassment and threats to their physical safety.î (Compare Doe v. Reed (2010), which applied First Amendment scrutiny to disclosure of the names of petition signers, though held that, given the government interests supporting such disclosure, the disclosure was indeed constitutional.) According to the Steve Maynard (Tacoma News Tribune), the man who requested the names said 'he was curious and he wants to pray for the strippers. ëI would pray for those dancers by name,' David Van Vleet said after the hearing. ëIím a ChristianÖ. We have a right to pray for people.í'

I should note that this case might be relied on by analogy in Second Amendment cases, in situations where people try to use public records laws to get the names of registered gun owners, or of registered holders of gun carry licenses. (The Supreme Court said, in D.C. v. Heller (2008), that there is no constitutional right to concealed carry, but some courts ó the Seventh and Ninth Circuit and the Illinois Supreme Court ó have held that there is a constitutional right to some form of carry, and in some states a license is required for any sort of carrying.) It's always uncertain, of course, how much courts will accept such analogies. Continue>>>