I'm used to writing about how judges rule in free speech cases, but I believe this is the first time I've had occasion to write about how a judge applies the First Amendment in his own courtroom. The First Amendment gives the press (and the public) the right to publish what government officials say and do. This allows us to hold government officials accountable when they do something that we don't like, and this "self-government" principle is one of the strongest justifications we have for our freedom of speech.

This week, a judge here in Maine incorrectly tried to restrict that freedom, at a criminal sentencing hearing in Portland. The judge prohibited reporters in the courtroom from reporting the statements of witnesses in the case, even though the statements were made in open court. Our courts are almost always open to the public, and this is a check on government abuse of power as well. Secret courts are anathema to our system of justice and have been for many hundreds of years.

The judge's order received swift criticism from many directions (including national news outlets that don't usually cover Maine District Court).

By the next day, the judge realized the scope of his mistake, apologized, and withdrew the offending orders. In doing so, he provided a truly positive example for government officials (and all of us). We all make mistakes, and it cannot have been easy for this judge to call everyone back to court to acknowledge in front of the public (and the press) that he was wrong. But, it was the right thing to do, and I hope that others will follow his example.