As detailed above, courts in North Carolina are generally open to the public, including the press. The public’s right of access is protected by the First Amendment and the N.C. Constitution. However, there are certain instances in which a courtroom may be permissibly closed or court records sealed from public view. If a judge issues a closure order, reporters are encouraged to object and to call their editors and lawyers immediately.
In addition to a right of access to judicial proceedings, the First Amendment also generally prohibits any restriction on the news media from publishing information seen or heard inside a courtroom. Moreover, the First Amendment protects the news media from being punished after the fact for court coverage. Notwithstanding the news media’s right to report on court proceedings, on occasion courts will issue orders forbidding lawyers, witnesses, jurors and other participants in a case from speaking to the news media. Such orders are generally permissible unless they are overbroad and not based on specific findings of fact.