ACLU, The Guardian and Pennsylvania papers file motion to unseal lethal injection records
The Guardian, Philadelphia City Paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Philadelphia Inquirer have joined with the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a motion filed Thursday requesting court records about the source of drugs used in lethal injections.
"The newspapers seeking this information argue that keeping that information under seal violates their First Amendment rights," according to the press release.
Pennsylvania has a history of open public access to information about its use of capital punishment. Before adopting lethal injection in 1991, the legislature convened public hearings, undertook fact-finding and held public debate. Today’s lawsuit seeks to continue the tradition of transparency in the commonwealth’s use of the death penalty.
Paula Reed Ward wrote about the motion on Thursday for the Philadelphia Post-Gazette. The motion comes before the Sept. 22 execution of Hubert Michael.
The DOC has argued that by making public its suppliers, there is a chance those companies would no longer be willing to provide the drugs.
But in the motion, the newspapers argue that the DOC bears the burden of justifying the sealing of the documents containing the identity of the chosen supplier.
Under the law, there is a "strong presumption" of public access to court documents, and the filing argues that the DOC must show an "overwhelming governmental interest" in keeping them sealed.
Last month, the ACLU of Oklahoma filed a suit with The Guardian and the Oklahoma Observer against Oklahoma State Corrections “seeking to stop Oklahoma prison officials from selectively filtering what journalists can see during an execution.”
In May, The Guardian joined with The Associated Press, the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Springfield News Leader in a suit against the Missouri Department of Corrections with similar questions about the drugs used for lethal injections.
Plaintiffs now bring this action to challenge DOC’s reinterpretation of the State’s “execution team” as including its drug supplier, and to compel DOC to disclose this information to the press and public. DOC’s refusal to disclose critical information as to the nature and source of the drugs used violates both Chapter 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes (the “Sunshine Law”) and the qualified right of access to government proceedings and records guaranteed to the public by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.