Delaware Courts of Chancery appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court recently, seeking to validate a law that would allow them to hold confidential arbitration proceedings for parties with $1M litigation at stake. Professor Judith Resnik wrote about this in the NYT Op-Ed pages, “Renting Judges for Secret Rulings.”
On appeal is the question whether this arbitration process, established by the Delaware Legislature and codified at Del. Code Ann. Tit. 10 § 349 violates the First Amendment’s right to public access for court proceedings.
The Delaware Legislature passed the law in 2009. It allows litigants with an amount in controversy over $1M to pay a $12,000 fee (and $6,000 per day) to conduct private arbitration in state courts, with a sitting state judge presiding over the proceedings. The verdict from this arbitration is final, as an enforceable judicial decision. The filings are not docketed, and the decisions are not published.
The Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DCOG) sued to have the law overturned after it was passed. The district court found that the law violated the First Amendment, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. The question presented in the petition writ for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court is whether under the “experience and logic” test, established by earlier SCOTUS cases, these cases may be held confidential, or closed to public access.