Court Cases Related to FOIA

Richard B. Cheney et al. v. US District Court for the District of Columbia

In a disappointing ruling (PDF) on May 10, 2005, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have access to documents from Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force. In a unanimous ruling, the court determined that the Energy Task Force was not subject to the disclosure requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, FACA. The court found that the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, failed to provide enough evidence to prove that energy industry officials were members of the task force and were allowed to vote on committee matters. The decision noted "there is nothing to indicate that non-federal employees had a right to vote on committee matters or exercise a veto over committee proposals."

Many consider this decision to be a blow to government accountability. ARL, with others in the public interest community, filed amicus briefs in this case. See the briefs submitted on March 11, 2004 (PDF) and November 29, 2004 (PDF).

Of key importance to the library community, and others in the public and private sectors, is how and when the public may gain access to information by advisory groups relating to federal policies.

Background

The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, in separate suits, sought access to information concerning the Energy Task Force convened by Vice President Cheney under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Vice President refused to make public the records of the Energy Task Force. The White House claimed that the courts and Congress have no right of access to this information. The two cases, now combined, argued that the Energy Task Force, which is comprised of government employees, sought advice from non-governmental officials associated with energy firms such as Enron. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch prevailed in both the lower court and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Of key importance to the library community and others in the public and private sectors is how and when the public may gain access to information by advisory groups relating to federal policies. This case has major implications well beyond the Energy Task Force deliberations. Tom Susman of Ropes & Gray notes, "While this is not a typical FOIA (or even a typical FACA) case, the underlying integrity of the FACA--and hence the issue of public access to minutes and materials of advisory committees--is at stake."


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) v. AT&T

On March 1, 2010, in a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court determined that corporations do not have a right to “personal privacy,” relating to records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the ruling in the case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Chief Justice Roberts noted that “we trust that AT&T will not take it personally.” AT&T tried to block the disclosure of records concerning its contract work for the federal government, claiming that corporations have “personal privacy” rights and invoked FOIA exemptions. In November 2010, ARL joined Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and four other organizations in filing an amicus brief before the US Supreme because of the importance of this case to issues concerning government transparency and accountability. The full US Supreme Court opinion is available online.

 
 
 

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