Federal Court Upholds Texas Open Meetings Law

AUSTIN, Texas (September 25, 2012)—The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld Texas' open meetings law as constitutional, rejecting a lawsuit involving more than a dozen cities that argued it stifled free speech for government officials.

The 1967 Texas Open Meetings Act prohibits a quorum of members of a governmental body from deliberating in secret.

Violations are punishable by as much as six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Officials from a group of 15 Texas cities, including Alpine, Arlington and Houston suburb Sugar Land, challenged the law in 2009.

A U.S. district judge ruled against them, prompting an appeal the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled Tuesday that the law promotes disclosure of speech and does not restrict it.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called the decision and victory for open government.

"Today’s ruling is a great victory for democracy and the First Amendment. The decision further guarantees the public will continue to have access to information about how their government works," Abbott said.

"Making meetings accessible and allowing the public to see how decisions are made are the foundation of open government. A healthy democracy requires that the public have access to how government operates."

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