FOIA Advisor

FOIA News (2019)

FOIA News: More on SCOTUS Exemption 4 case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Argument analysis: Justices appear likely to endorse broader reading of FOIA exemption for “confidential” commercial information

By Mark Fenster, SCOTUSblog, Apr. 23, 2019

An observer might be excused if she was confused by Monday’s oral argument in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. The case concerns the application of the term “confidential” commercial or financial information in Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act to grocery-store data collected from transactions involving debit cards issued to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits recipients. A South Dakota newspaper had requested the data as part of its investigations into the SNAP program. FOIA cases typically inspire at least gestural exhortations about the necessity of an informed public and the danger that excessive governmental disclosure poses to the nation. Instead, the justices first spent a fair amount of time on complex justiciability issues that arose late in the litigation and then focused on dry questions of statutory interpretation. This was in part the product of the factual and procedural issues in this case, but it suggests that the court may follow the lead of 2011’s Milner v. Department of Navy and reverse purpose-driven lower-court interpretations of FOIA in favor of statutory textualism.

Read more here.

FOIA News: SCOTUS hears Exemption 4 case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Supreme Court leans toward restricting access to business data

Justices heard arguments on Monday in the case, which pits business groups against news organizations and open-government advocates.

By Josh Gerstein, Politico, Apr. 22, 2019

The Supreme Court appears headed for a ruling that could dramatically restrict access to federal government records with details about private businesses.

Justices heard arguments on Monday in the case, which pits business groups against news organizations and open-government advocates.

The Trump administration has allied itself with the business groups seeking to overturn an appeals court precedent that has allowed the release of business-provided data for nearly half a century. Media outlets and transparency advocates have pushed back against the effort, warning that reining in access to such information could eliminate public scrutiny of an untold number of federal databases and other records about highly regulated, potentially dangerous industries.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Redactions in Mueller report may be reviewed in FOIA case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Judge in FOIA case says he may want to review DOJ redactions of Mueller report after release

By Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Apr. 16, 2019

Federal District Judge Reggie Walton expressed uncertainty about the redactions Attorney General William Barr is making to special counsel Robert Mueller's report and suggested he may want to review the Justice Department's redactions for himself once versions of it are made public.

"Obviously there is a real concern as to whether there is full transparency," Walton said at a Tuesday court hearing in Washington about a request from BuzzFeed News to have the Justice Department release the report quickly under the Freedom of Information Act. "The attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned" about the redactions.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Commission of Fine Arts proposes revisions to FOIA regulations

FOIA News (2019)Ryan MulveyComment

The Commission of Fine Arts published an interim final rule, along with a request for public comments, concerning revised FOIA regulations in today’s issue of the Federal Register. The CFA last updated its FOIA regulations in 1986. The proposed revisions, which are effective June 1, 2019, incorporate all FOIA-related amendments that have passed over the past thirty years. Public comments are due by May 20, 2019.

FOIA News: Argument preview for Exemption 4 SCOTUS case

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Argument preview: Justices to consider meaning of “confidential” in Freedom of Information Act

By Mark Fenster, SCOTUSblog, Apr. 15, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues specialized debit cards to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits recipients. Although the data that USDA gathers under SNAP are not quite so rich and revealing as those collected by private credit- and debit-card issuers, they do include commercial information about the retail grocery stores at which SNAP recipients purchase their groceries. The Argus Leader newspaper (based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) requested this data under the Freedom of Information Act to further its investigative reporting into SNAP-related fraud. Its appeal of USDA’s denial of its request landed twice in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit before reaching the Supreme Court, where the justices will hear oral argument on April 22.

Read more here.  

FOIA News: House committee seeks more money for Interior’s FOIA program

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Dems want additional funds to meet FOIA 'transparency goals'

Scott Streater, E&E News, Apr. 12, 2019

The Democratic chairmen of the House Natural Resources and Oversight and Reform committees are asking appropriators to increase funding for the Interior Department program that handles Freedom of Information Act requests

Read more here (accessible with free trial subscription).