Court Declines to Hear Texas Open Meetings Appeal

Originally published March 25, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal challenging the Texas Open Meetings Act, keeping intact the law that bans government officials from talking business in informal settings.

Officials from 15 cities in Texas challenged the law in 2009, saying they supported open government but that the law banned such behavior as simply talking to a colleague about a matter on a city meeting agenda. The 1967 law prohibits a quorum of members of a governmental body from deliberating in secret, and violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday’s decision, which puts an end to all challenges, ensures that the law will keep holding elected officials accountable to conduct the taxpayers’ business “in the light of day.”

“Texans have a right to know about their government, their elected representatives and the policies that are being adopted on the public’s behalf, and thanks to today’s ruling, that openness will continue,” Abbott said in a statement.

A U.S. district judge ruled against the cities in 2011, prompting an appeal to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court unanimously ruled last year that the law promotes the disclosure of speech and does not restrict it.

Joe Larsen, a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the plaintiffs’ arguments “turned the First Amendment on its head, claiming office holders’ freedom of speech was an argument to shut the public out of deliberations of their governmental bodies instead of recognizing that the First Amendment requires reasonable access.”

Some attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately return calls for comment Monday.