The Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously against journalists in a case involving a presumptive First Amendment right to obtain juror names, reports Courthouse News Service. The case stems from two COVID-era criminal trials in rural Cochise County, where juror names remained anonymous during and after the trial. The judge referred to the jurors by numbers instead of their names, masking the jurors’ identities. Before COVID-19, reporters could view the juror selection process in person and see the jurors participating in a trial. Terri Jo Neff, a freelance journalist, and David Morgan, publisher of the Cochise County Record, contested the restrictive procedures.
The court cited the state constitution in supporting an individual’s right to privacy “[n]o person shall be disturbed in his private … without [the] authority of law.” Justice Clint Bolick said the state "plainly has a compelling interest in enforcing it to protect juror privacy." The journalists represented by the First Amendment Clinic at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law argued that transparency in the judicial process served a compelling interest. The clinic argued that juror transparency could play a role in ensuring correct racial dynamics. Justice Ann Timmer wrote that, “Accessing jurors’ names would not significantly add to the public’s ability to assure itself that voir dire is fairly conducted or to check the courts in disregarding established standards for jury selection... “[In] this internet age, where jurors’ names can trigger lightning-fast access to a wealth of biographical information, including addresses, any slightly positive role in divulging jurors’ names to the public is outweighed by the risk to jury integrity."