U.S. Supreme Court to hear Va. FOIA case re: out-of-state-requests

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a Virginia FOIA case that is challenging citizens-only provisions in state public disclosure laws.

While the case originated in Virginia, seven other states have or once had provisions that tended to provide access rights to public records only to those states' own citizens. In August, NFOIC joined other open government advocacy groups in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule those provisions unconstitutional.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of Virginia Coalition for Open Government (a member of NFOIC) and a director on NFOIC's board, was surprised but pleased by the Court's decision to hear the case.

"I'm happy to see that the court sees public access to government records as an important issue," Rhyne wrote in an email. "I continue to believe that Virginia's limitation is poor public policy because people who live outside the state but who still have interests in the state are at a disadvantage. For instance, the Marine from Virginia Beach who is sent to Penscacola can't FOIA minutes from the city council meeting about an issue that will affect his family. It can hurt Virginia government entities, too: The Ohio business owner who has a fantastic idea for providing a service to a local government but can't get hold of previous project bids to craft his proposal."

Rhyne continued: "I get calls several times a month from people who have been denied records because they are not from Virginia. They find it hard to believe, for one, and then they get frustrated because they then have to go through a needless workaround of finding someone in Virginia to make the request for them. The government doesn't save any time or money in those cases because they still, eventually, have to do the work."

For more background on the case, see NFOIC joins nonprofits in amicus brief involving Virginia FOIA case.

See more from Watchdog News Virginia bureau, and still more from Thomson Reuters News & Insight.