Home » News » Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivers 1st opinion in FOIA case

By The Associated Press, published on March 4, 2021

Select Dynamic field

In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo by Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has delivered her first opinion.


The 7-2 decision released March 4 is in a case about the federal Freedom of Information Act, which Barrett explains makes “records available to the public upon request, unless those records fall within one of nine exemptions.” Barrett wrote for the Court that certain draft documents do not have to be disclosed under FOIA.


The 11-page opinion comes in the first case Barrett heard after joining the court in late October following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.


The opinion Barrett wrote involved the environmental group the Sierra Club, which sued seeking access to federal government documents involving certain structures used to cool industrial equipment and their potential harm to endangered wildlife. Barrett began by explaining that FOIA makes “records available to the public upon request, unless those records fall within one of nine exemptions.” Those exemptions include “documents generated during an agency’s deliberations about a policy, as opposed to documents that embody or explain a policy that the agency adopts.”


Barrett said the documents the Sierra Club was seeking were draft documents that did not need to be disclosed. And she dismissed concerns the group had raised that ruling against it would encourage officials to “stamp every document ‘draft’” to avoid disclosing them. Barrett said that if “evidence establishes that an agency has hidden a functionally final decision in draft form” then it won’t be protected from disclosure requirements.


Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices are not currently announcing their decisions in the courtroom but only posting them online.


The Free Speech Center newsletter offers a digest of First Amendment and news media-related news every other week. Subscribe for free here: https://bit.ly/3kG9uiJ



More than 1,700 articles on First Amendment topics, court cases and history