FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Professor Scalia and the FOIA (1982)

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment


By Prof. Antonin Scalia, Regulation, Mar./Apr. 1982

THE FREEDOM of Information Act (FOIA) is part of the basic weaponry of modern regulatory war, deployable against regulators and regulated alike. It differs, however, from other weaponry in the conflict, in that it is largely immune from arms limitation debate. Public discussion of the act displays a range of opinion extending from constructively-critical-but-respectful through admiring to enthralled. The media, of course, praise it lavishly, since they understandably like the "free information" it promises and provides. The Congress tends to agree with the media. The executive branch generally limits its criticism to relatively narrow or technical aspects-lest it seem to be committing the governmental equivalent of "taking the Fifth." The regulated sector also wishes to demonstrate that it has nothing to hide, and is in any case torn between aversion to those features of the act that unreasonably compromise its interests and affection for those that unreasonably compromise the government's. Through the mutually reinforcing praise of many who should know better, the act is paraded about with the veneration normally reserved for the First Amendment itself.

Little should be expected, then, of efforts now under way in both houses of Congress to revise the act. But however dim the prospect for fundamental change, the FOIA is worth examining, if only as an academic exercise. It is the Taj Mahal of the Doctrine of Unanticipated Consequences, the Sistine Chapel of Cost Benefit Analysis Ignored.

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