A student newspaper at the University of Florida is asking the Supreme Court to grant access to NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy photographs, the Orlando Sentintel reports. Tom Julin, an attorney for Independent Florida Alligator, says the newspaper is entitled to the photos under the First Amendment and that a state law barring access is unconstitutional.
“It is far broader than necessary to protect the privacy rights of the Earnhardt family and anyone else,” Julin said. Autopsy photographs had been public records for decades when Earnhardt died at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001.
After his family obtained a court order sealing photos from his autopsy, the Orlando Sentinel sued for access. The newspaper reached an agreement with the Earnhardts allowing an independent medical expert to view the photos and write a report on how the driver died.
The Alligator also requested access, but was denied based on new restrictions passed by the state Legislature. In July, the Florida Supreme Court decided not to hear the newspaper’s appeal.
Jon Mills, an attorney for Earnhardt’s widow, Teresa, said he thought the Supreme Court would uphold the Florida law and restrict access. “I feel very confident about the statute,” Mills said. “I feel confident that the issues were addressed in terms of the First Amendment.”