Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Idaho Supreme Court Rules That Senate, House May Close Legislative Committee Meetings to the Public

The Idaho Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision that the Senate and House may close legislative committee meetings to the public. The Idaho Press Club had requested a declaratory judgment that closing such meetings violated Article III, section 12 of the Idaho Constitution.

"The Press Club contends that the phrase "business of each house" should be construed to include legislative committees. It argues that because each house utilizes legislative committees in order to function, the work of such committees is included in the phrase "business of each house." There are three problems with this argument.

"First, both houses also utilize the committee of the whole as part of the legislative process. If the "business" of each house was intended to include the work of all committees, then it would also include the committee of the whole, which is a committee. If the word "business" included the work of all committees, then there would have been no reason to expressly include the committee of the whole within the provisions of Article III, [section] 12. The reference to the committee of the whole would be mere surplusage. We should avoid an interpretation which would render terms of a constitution mere surplusage....

"Second, adopting the Press Club's definition of "business" would create an inconsistency. Article III, [section] 10 states, "A majority of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business." If legislative committees are included within the "business" of each house, then a majority of each house would have to be present at each meeting of a legislative committee because such committee meetings would constitute doing the business of the house. Nobody contends that a majority of the members of each house are required to be present at meetings of legislative committees....

"Third, the argument is contrary to the history surrounding the adoption of Article III, [section] 12. The version originally approved...permitted secret legislative sessions to enact legislation....Throughout the debate concerning Article III, [section] 12, there was no discussion regarding whether legislative committee meetings should be open or closed to the public. The delegates quoted were arguing against permitting secret sessions of the legislature, not against closing meetings of legislative committees. To apply their arguments to an issue they were not even addressing is simply putting words in their mouths....

"...[A]t the time of the Idaho Constitutional Convention, legislative committee meetings were typically closed to the public. There is no reason to believe that the delegates were unaware of that fact. Had they intended to prohibt the legislature from closing all such committee meetings, one of the delegates would certainly have mentioned that issue....

"The Press Club and amicus curiae also present various policy arguments as to why legislative committee meetings should always be open. We cannot use policy arguments to give a constitutional provision a meaning that is not consistent with its wording...."

"Finally, amicus curiae argue that Article I, [section 10], of the Constitution requires that legislative committee meetings be open. They rely on the provision stating, "THe people have the instruct their representatives...." According to amicus curiae, the right to instruct representatives must include the right to attend legislative committee meetings....Article I, [section] 10, does not specify the manner in which the people have the right to instruct their representatives. It does not, by its terms, purport to require that legislative committee meetings be open. Even if we were to conclude that its provisions conflicted with those of Article III, [section 12], the latter, being specific, would prevail."

Read the entire opinion here.

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