Supreme Court’s Decision in First FOIA Case Fails to Defend the Public’s Right to Know

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today in favor of denying the public’s access to government spending information in the Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media case that brought to fore the court’s interpretation of a key component – Exemption 4 – of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Transparency and accountability groups, including Open The Government, had previously filed an amicus brief urging the Court to improve upon and clarify how the exemption is applied in the future. More information about the case and its journey to the Supreme Court is available here.

Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open The Government, stated:
The Supreme Court’s decision is a disappointing setback for our Freedom of Information laws and the public’s right to know. The decision to expand Exemption 4 in a manner that upholds corporate interest above the public’s access to information buttresses the current era of unparalleled corporate capture and government secrecy.

The Court’s decision stands in stark contrast to the essence of FOIA, which aims to ensure access to information and check against corruption in our government. It is a highly discouraging development for right to know advocates who now have to navigate the consequences of an expanded interpretation of Exemption 4 that will motivate government agencies to continue to deny the public access to government contractor spending information and related interactions they deem “confidential”. This decision means public interest organizations will face even greater pushback from agencies and contractors who will use the interpretation to bypass the FOIA put in place to hold them accountable to the public.