Confidences Worth Keeping: Rebalancing Legitimate Interests in Litigants’ Private Information in an Era of Open-Access Courts

Jeffrey W. Sheehan · 21 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 905

Abstract

The ideal of the public trial in open court continues to guide decisions about public access to courts and their records, even as cases are increasingly decided “on the papers.” This is still the case when those “papers” take the form of electronic documents that can be uploaded, downloaded, copied, and distributed by anyone with an internet connection. A series of opinions from the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reinforcing this ideal of public access to court records and unsealing district court filings offers an opening to reconsider core values that must inform our treatment of private information in public litigation. This Article articulates some of those relevant values and proposes an orderly mechanism for minimizing gratuitous exposure of private information while maintaining appropriate public access to the evidence courts use to resolve cases and controversies.