Current rules vary widely and lead to improper sealing of records that the public is entitled to see
Since 2017, the Knight Institute has been working with the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law to improve the rules governing the sealing of federal court records. Our research with the Transparency Clinic has shown that sealing rules in federal district court vary substantially from one district to the next, and that the absence of clear procedural rules has led to improper sealing, in violation of the public’s constitutional and common-law rights of access to judicial records.
In May and October 2017, we submitted letters to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, proposing that the court amend its rule governing sealing to address deficiencies in the rule that had facilitated the improper sealing of court records. In response, the court amended its sealing rule, substantially improving the process by which records are sealed.
In September 2021, we submitted a letter to the federal rules committee, urging the committee to establish a uniform, baseline procedure for the sealing of federal court records nationwide. The letter argues that a uniform rule is necessary to safeguard the public's right of access to court records. We are now waiting for the committee to consider our proposal.