Does Pro Bono Work Bolster The Case For Open Government?

Conservative media outlets have for years screamed that our constitutional freedoms are under assault. There’s a war on Christmas. There’s a war against guns. There’s a war against journalists. No matter where you look, it’s war. But the reality is a lot different. The world is becoming a lot better by almost every metric (except environmental protections). People are more educated and living longer. Infant mortality rates are at an all-time low. 

And there are more Democratic governments in the world today than at any other point in human history.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has existed for 50 years, existing for no other reason than to protect the ability of journalists to do their job unencumbered by legal restrictions from an overbearing federal government. 

Journalists living in Pennsylvania are at the forefront of this fight. A new RCFP lawyer is joining them in their struggle to obtain access to classified government documents. Why do they want that information? They think it will help them dance around those aforementioned legal restrictions.

Journalists have been obtaining information from the government and sharing it with the public for a long time. That’s because the public is busy. Even though certain governmental activities are legally bound to be transparent, how many of us actually has enough time in the day to wade through the quagmire? Not many, we’d wager.

That’s why the RCFP is providing a “check” to government obstacles free of charge. The pro bono work will be done with the primary goal of ensuring transparency. 

Penn-Live Patriot News writer Michael Berry describes what they’re up against in an article titled “A pro bono mission for open government | Opinion.”

“In this kind of litigation,” Berry writes, “the laws often stack the deck in favor of secrecy. They provide no real-time remedy, and the litigation can go on for years. For example, the Right to Know Law provides an easy route to appeal when requests for records are denied. But, the agency that hears most appeals — the Office of Open Records — has no authority to enforce its decisions. And, public officials are free to appeal to court, where they can raise new issues and where the Office’s prior ruling has no significance.”

The Right to Know Law forces government organizations to keep public records of all activities.  Meanwhile, we have open courts (mostly) thanks to the Constitution. 

But some people in Pennsylvania don’t think these laws go far enough to provide information to those who need it, especially for ongoing litigation against municipal governments. Hopefully, that will all change soon.