A bipartisan coalition of four Senators – Charles Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act (S 2220) on Tuesday, July 23. As an organization dedicated to access to information and press freedom, AAN welcomes this legislation and urges its members to assist in our efforts to get it enacted into law.
As this press release from the co-sponsors notes, the bill is a response to two recent actions that have undercut the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in key ways: the June 24, 2019 decision from the United States Supreme Court in Food Marking Institute v. Argus Leader Media, in which the Court significantly expanded the reach of FOIA Exemption 4 as that exemption pertains to confidential commercial or financial information. S 2220 would overturn that decision and reinstate the holding from a 1974 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (National Parks & Conservation Association v. Morton) which requires a demonstration of “significant harm” to the competitive position of the private entity involves prior to withholding the information (a position advocated by AAN and others in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of the newspaper). It also addresses a recent action by the Environmental Protection Agency – now enshrined in that agency’s regulations and likely to be emulated by others – which allow for greater overall withholding of records by designating them as “non-responsive” to the request rather than simply invoking an amendment.
Along with other members of the News Media for Open Government, we commend these Senators for responding so quickly to threats to transparency emanating from other branches of government.
Please do not hesitate to contact AAN Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-812-0462 if you have any questions about this bill.