But the landmark ruling has remained sealed for more than a year because it came as part of a closed-door inquest regarding a police shooting.
Police shot and killed Nathan Giffin, a suspected bank robber, in January 2018 after an hourlong standoff outside Montpelier High School. WCAX captured the shooting on video, which state prosecutors subpoenaed in the course of determining whether the shooting was criminal.
The television station asked a judge to quash the subpoena on the grounds that it ran afoul of the new shield law. The judge agreed, but kept his written explanation sealed at the state's request.
WCAX argued that the order was improperly sealed, depriving the public of important information about an application of the new law. On the other side, Washington County State's Attorney Rory Thibault worried that publicizing a record related to an inquest could undermine the law enforcement process.
While narrow, the ruling did open the door to future encroachments upon the secrecy of inquests. In a concurring opinion, Justice John Dooley asked state lawmakers to step in, calling the current framework "untenable."
Thibault said Friday that he agreed.
"The legislature needs to sort out the degree of confidentiality and the appropriate mechanism for the state to continue to use inquest subpoenas as an investigatory tool," he said.
WCAX general manager Jay Barton said he is grateful the Supreme Court had "the wisdom to unseal that verdict so it can stand as precedent on behalf of all Vermont journalists."