Plain Writing, and Sunshine in Litigation

03.12.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

One way “to enhance citizen access to Government information,” a new Senate bill proposes, would be to require that Government documents “must be written clearly.”

By insisting on plain language in official documents, the bill “promotes transparency and accountability,” said lead sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka.  “It is very difficult to hold the Federal Government accountable for its actions if only lawyers can understand Government writing. As we face an economic crisis and unprecedented budget deficits, the American people need clear explanations of Government actions.”

See “Introduction of the Plain Writing Act of 2009,” March 11.  A similar bill (HR 946) was introduced in the House last month.

Another Senate bill tackles the problem of judicial secrecy orders and confidential court settlements that deprive the public of significant health or safety information.

The Sunshine in Litigation Act is a modest proposal that would require federal judges to perform a simple balancing test to ensure that in any proposed secrecy order, the defendant’s interest in secrecy truly outweighs the public interest in information related to public health and safety,” said Sen. Herb Kohl.

“Specifically, prior to making any portion of a case confidential or sealed, a judge would have to determine–by making a particularized finding of fact–that doing so would not restrict the disclosure of information relevant to public health and safety,” he said.

Speaking of sunshine, next week (March 15-21) is “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign to promote values of open government and freedom of information.  Background information and a calendar of events can be found here.