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Supreme Court rules states can deny information requests from outside their borders

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Supreme Court 4 (Verge Stock)
Supreme Court 4 (Verge Stock)

The Supreme Court just ruled that state government agencies are only required to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) from residents of their state. They can ignore all requests for information that come from outside their state's borders, if that's their state's policy.

"no constitutional right to obtain all information provided by FOIA laws."

The unanimous decision came down in a case (McBurney v. Young) involving a man from California seeking tax information from Virginia, and another former Virginia resident who had moved to Rhode Island and wanted information related to his ex-wife's failure to pay child support. Both were denied under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, which states: "All public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth."

An appeals court previously ruled that this line meant that Virginia's state agencies could refuse to serve up records to out-of-state residents, and the Supreme Court upheld this limitation, with Justice Samuel Alito providing the ruling, "This Court has repeatedly made clear that there is no constitutional right to obtain all the information provided by FOIA laws." Seven other states also have laws with similarly resident-specific language for FOIA requests: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee. Interestingly, the court skirted the issue of how this might impact businesses and online FOIA requests, leaving it up to the states and those seeking FOIA requests to sort out. Still, in an age when online forms like those at MuckRock make it easy for anyone across the country to fill out a FOIA request, the decision was a strong reminder that borders still matter.

Update: In an effort to get around the ruling, MuckRock has published a post asking for volunteers who are residents of each affected state to cosign FOIAs submitted online by those who aren't residents.