Open Government Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Open Government

The ACLU of Rhode Island works daily to improve citizens' access to public records and meetings through litigation, public education and advocacy.  

Why is open government important?

  • Openness in government is a linchpin of democracy, ensuring that the voters have the information they need to choose their leaders and then evaluate their performance in office.
  • Public access to information is an essential tool in the fight against corruption in government.
  • Public access to information can save taxpayer dollars and expose poor government practices.

The public has the right to know what its government is doing. After all, isn't our government supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people”?

One of the most vital aspects of an open government is public access to government records.  Accessing Public Records in Rhode Island includes an explanation of the APRA request process and gives you tips on requesting public records.

Open Government in the News

  • May, 18, 2017: ACLU of RI Statement on 38 Studios Grand Jury Decision
  • May, 01, 2017: ACLU Of RI Urges Compliance With Open Meetings Act in Letter to City Council Ordinance Committee
  • Apr, 12, 2017: ACLU of Rhode Island Files Lawsuit Demanding Documents on Implementation of Trump Muslim Ban

View All Open Government Related News Releases »

Open Government Related Court Cases

2017: ACLU v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Racial/Ethnic Discrimination    Immigration    Open Government    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans.  Filed on behalf of six New England ACLU Affiliates, the lawsuit seeks records from the Boston field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) related to CBP's implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans at T.F. Green, Bradley, Bangor, Burlington, Logan and Manchester airports.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in April 2017.

ACLU Attorney:
Zachary Heiden, Legal Director, ACLU of Maine

Supporting Documents
2015: Eil v. DEA
Category: Active Case    Open Government    

About This Case:
This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit is on behalf of local journalist, Philip Eil, who has been stymied in his effort to obtain access to thousands of pages of public evidence from a major prescription drug-dealing trial. The lawsuit, against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), seeks a court order to release the documents, a declaration that the DEA has wrongfully withheld and redacted documents, and an award of attorney fees.

The DEA still has not completely fulfilled the request, despite numerous efforts by Eil to expedite a response. Pending with the DEA for more than 800 days, Eil’s request is seven months older than what the federal government-operated website,, reports as the agency’s longest pending request. In addition to the time it has taken to process the request, the DEA has withheld 87 percent of the 12,724 pages it has thus far processed for Eil’s FOIA request, and stripped most of the substantive information from the remaining 1,600 pages it has “released.”

Current Status:
In September 2016, Judge McConnell ruled in Eil's favor and ordered the documents released.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Neal McNamara
Jessica Jewell

Supporting Documents

View All Right to Open Government Court Cases »

Open Government Related Legislation

Open Meetings (S 381)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

In February 2016, the ACLU published a report called “Hidden Agenda” in which we took a close look at compliance of agencies with the Open Meetings Act requirement to publicly post their agendas at least 48 hours in advance of the date of their meetings. Our report found many violations in this regard. One of our many recommendations included providing the public with more than 48 hours notice about public meetings, and particularly, to exclude weekends and holidays from that calculation. This legislation would do just that. During the first week of May, the Senate passed the bill, which will now be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Administrative Procedures Act (H 5339, S 229)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

Currently, the state Board of Elections is virtually the only major state agency exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires state agencies to adopt rules and regulations through an open, public process. As a result, the Board can modify how elections take place in Rhode Island without having to inform the public or accept public input. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Carlos Tobon (H 5339) and Senator Stephen Archambault (S 229) to eliminate this exemption.

38 Studios Public Records (H 5347, S 932)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

This legislation would make public any records generated or obtained by the Rhode Island state police or Attorney General in their investigation of the 38 Studios scandal. The ACLU assisted sponsor Rep. Charlene Lima in drafting the legislation, and the House has approved the measure in March. Citing the strong public interest in their release, the ACLU and other open government groups have been calling for disclosure of the documents since last year. In April, the ACLU filed a friend of the court brief in support of the release of the grand jury records in the investigation. Senator Lombardi introduced this legislation (S 932) as well in the Senate, and it was passed during the month of June. 

Access to Public Records (S 68)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

The Access to Public Records Act is a critical law, essential to promoting open government and an informed citizenry. Despite updates to the law in 2012, an audit by the ACLU and other groups concerned with transparency in government found the law’s enforcement policies insufficient to ensure compliance from dozens of agencies. The ACLU testified before the Senate Judiciary committee this year in support of legislation sponsored by Senator Stephen Archambault (S 68) to make it easier for the public to obtain documents of public concern. Among other provisions, the legislation limits when documents such as arrest reports and correspondence by elected officials could be exempt from release, requires public bodies to specifically note the reasons for withholding any document and to prominently feature their public records policies on their websites, and allows courts to impose stronger penalties on those agencies that improperly withhold documents.