Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas R. Morris

Second Advisor

Dr. Arthur B. Gunlicks


The purpose of this study is to analyze Supreme Court pronouncements concerning a right of public access to criminal proceedings in order to determine to what extent the Court has recognized a constitutional guarantee of a public trial as it may apply to the accused and to the public and press. Because the question of public access to the courtroom is a relatively new one, this study is principally centered on recent cases which were decided exclusively by the Burger Court, pro­viding a unique opportunity for a "case study." Consequently, a secondary thrust of the study is an analysis of the decision-making process of the present Court as demonstrated by a limited number of cases in a limited area.

Chapter I is devoted to a search for constitutional bases for a guarantee of public access to the courtroom, including an examination of general character, historical grounding in common law and custom, and sources in the First Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, the Ninth Amendment, and the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U. S. Constitution. Chapter II considers and analyzes the parameters of a guarantee in terms of qualifications, limitations, and restrictions in order to determine the applicability of the Court's definition of a right of access. Finally, Chapter III evaluates the Burger Court's decision­ making in the courtroom access cases. An attempt is made to analyze the Court's judgments in the larger context of the long-standing free press-fair trial debate and the relatively current concern for a general right of access to governmental activities and proceedings.

The reader should be cautioned that this is a limited study of a limited area which does not attempt to address the many broader questions suggested herein. There is no attempt, for example, to address policy considerations or to make normative judgments. In short the study attempts to discover what the Court has said on one narrow constitutional question and, in terms of consistency, clarity and practical applicability, how well it has spoken.