Title

Open Meetings and Public Records Laws: Access In Louisiana

Date of Award

1996

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Gene Wiggins

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once wrote, "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring fulfillment to the public's right to know" (Branzburg v. Hayes, 1972, p. 721). The comment speaks to the importance of the news media's role within the system of governance which has evolved in the United States. Popular participation in government requires information about the workings of that government. It therefore seems apparent that the government should take steps to assure access. However, the need for access must be balanced against the legitimate interests served by limited secrecy, including facilitating decision making, maintaining security, and protecting privacy. It must also be acknowledged that access is given only partial protection under the U.S. Constitution. As a consequence, most access laws are statutory creations of the 20th century. The present study examines Louisiana's open meetings and public records laws. A study of the patterns of statutory laws, court rulings and attorney-general opinions should have much to reveal about the basic philosophies of access expressed in Louisiana's attempt to strike a balance between the often competing interests involved in the development of this type of policy. The study of state law is important, as each state has established its own guidelines. Louisiana, however, is of particular interest because it is the only state with a strong civil law tradition. Its laws should therefore serve as an interesting comparison with the approach taken by its sister states. Based on this examination, it is argued that Louisiana's basic statutory system in these areas is sound, comparing favorably with models for effective statutes outlined by legal scholars. However, the true effectiveness of these systems is often affected by court interpretations and legislative activity within other areas of that state's statutes.