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Variably Sunny: SCOTUS Allows Local FOIA Restrictions 86

v3rgEz writes "The Supreme Court ruled Monday morning that states have the right to restrict public records access to locals, meaning one more hurdle to would-be muckrakers everywhere. Even in-state requesters are harmed: It means one more bureaucratic hurdle and another excuse for agencies to respond in paper rather than electronically. MuckRock has helped file requests in all 50 states — important for projects like the Drone Census — and we're looking for more volunteers to help ensure transparency from sea to shining sea. States impacted: Alabama; Arkansas; Delaware; Georgia; New Hampshire; New Jersey; Tennessee; and Virginia. If you live in one of the above, fill out a simple form and we can help ensure that sunshine isn't restricted depending on where you live."
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Variably Sunny: SCOTUS Allows Local FOIA Restrictions

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  • Re:9th amendment (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @12:13PM (#43591637)

    How does the ninth amendment even apply, in any way? The FOIA isn't in the constitution at all. Anyways, the SCOTUS found a long (long) time ago that the 9th amendment only applies to the federal government and isn't enforceable against the states, so even if it was in some way relevant, it still wouldn't apply, as this is a state-level FOIAs that the ruling was on.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @12:15PM (#43591653)

    Yeah! Just imagine if Stephen Hawking had been British! He'd have never survived!

    lol. []

  • by Notabadguy ( 961343 ) on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @12:51PM (#43592071)


    Summing up what the court had to say:

    1. The government of a state works for the citizens of that state - who pay their salary. Not for non-state residents.
    2. Information that is freely available online or at a clerk's office does not need to be provided through a FOIA request.
    3. You do not have the right to treat the government of another state like a slave.

  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @12:52PM (#43592091) Homepage

    I admit, I haven't read the full thing, but as soon as I made it 1/2 a page in, I had to respond ...

    First off, this doesn't seem to be about the federal FOIA, it's about a state's act. And the limit here is that states don't have to respond to people who aren't citizens of their states. The 2006 Lee v. Minner decision (458 F.3d 194) found that Delaware wasn't allowed to have such a clause in their FOIA, so this isn't even going to affect all states.

    That being said, I'm an elected municipal official in Maryland (which falls under the Lee vs. Minner ruling, as I understand it) ... and it's possible that we'd get sued under the equivalent Maryland law, as someone recently tried to demand from us *EVERY* *LAST* business transaction that we made for the last 7 years. (I can't remember the exact wording; it's possible that we claim that the report requested was a 'new record' and thus something that didn't exist) Mind you, we have 8 employees, 3 of whom are police officers, and 3 of whom are public works. So that'd mean that we'd have to tie up our accountant or town clerk for weeks to go through all of the records, properly sanitize everything to keep from leaking restricted information (like PII, as we're so small that we have a single system that also handles payroll), which would mean that we couldn't actually serve our citizens in the process.

    Why did the person want this it? Because they were starting a website to charge businesses for access to this information.

    If a person has a legitimate need for the information, they should be able to get a citizen of the state to file the request on their behalf. How much time has been wasted in Hawaii by responding to birth certificate requests over the last few years?

    (note; I have a full time job and don't participate in the day-to-day operations of our town; I have no idea how the request ended up playing out (or if it's finished playing out yet); I believe it was sent to our attorney to deal with)

  • 10th amendment (Score:5, Informative)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @12:54PM (#43592111)

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    It seems that State held information is a State matter and not a federal one.
    It is interesting that people look upon the US as a monolithic country when it was formed more as a confederation of independent States. The states guard their sovereignty very strongly. The SCOTUS appears to see FOI requests from different states the same as FOI requests from different countries and, as it is the way the US is set up, it should. If a State does not want to respond to FOI requests from different States or countries there is no Federal power that requires them to.

    Here is a quote from the decision;

    The state FOIA essentially represents a mechanism by which those who ultimately hold sovereign power (i.e., the citizens of the Commonwealth) may obtain an accounting from the public officials to whom they delegate the exercise of that power.

  • Re:simple workaround (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @01:15PM (#43592335)
    I had to read both TFS and your post multiple times before I understood that "restrict public records access to locals" meant that they are restricting everyone else from accessing those public records.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 30, 2013 @01:28PM (#43592461)

    It was a UNANIMOUS decision. Whatever you may think of Sarah Palin's politics, she was forced to step down as the governor of Alaska because of the cost of out-of-state FOIA requests to such a small state. If this has a cost so prohibitive that the corporations without any employees in a state can actually undermine the will of the voters of the state, then stopping such a practice is a Good Thing(TM).

"Turn on, tune up, rock out." -- Billy Gibbons