OPEN COURTS -- Adam Liptak, writing in the New York Times, reports that the U.S. Supreme Court decided today in a case from Georgia that a criminal defendant's presumed fair trial rights under the Sixth Amendment—separate and apart from the rights of the press and public under the First Amendment—include a courtroom open to the public during jury selection.

In one of the Georgia cases, Presley v. Georgia,
No. 09-5270, the Supreme Court decided two open issues concerning
closed courtrooms. The trial judge had ejected an uncle of the
defendant during jury selection,
saying her courtroom was too small to accommodate both potential jurors and the public.

The
defendant, Eric Presley, was convicted of trafficking in cocaine. He
appealed, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial had been
violated. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled
that the press and the public have a First Amendment right of access to
jury selection; in Mr. Presley’s case, the court Tuesday extended that
right to criminal defendants under the Sixth Amendment.

“There
is no legitimate reason, at least in the context of jury selection
proceedings to give one who asserts a First Amendment privilege greater
rights to insist on public proceedings than the accused has,” the
opinion said.

The court also resolved whether a defendant seeking
to open a courtroom must present alternatives to the trial judge. The
Supreme Court said no. Whether trial judges are given a menu of options
or not, the majority opinion said, they “are obligated to take every
reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia,
dissented, saying the majority should not have decided the two
questions in summary fashion without full briefing and argument.