Key to the decision was the appellate court’s finding that Congress, in drafting the “good cause” standard, had meant to supercede the common-law tradition of open access, rather than incorporating or adopting it. Furthermore, the court pointed to 25-year-old Second Circuit precedent (interestingly enough, stemming from NBC’s request to see similar documents after Wayne Newton famously sued the network for a report suggesting he maintained links to Las Vegas mafiosi): the finding that the only parties with a chance of meeting the statute’s “good cause” standard are those aggrieved by the wire tap—people, in other words, whose conversations were captured by the tap.

“We believe the law is broader than that,” said McCraw. “We still believe that public access to these records is important to monitoring the work of law enforcement.”

The New York Times is weighing an appeal to the full Second Circuit.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.