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It’s now a little harder to access public records

It’s now a little harder to access public records

By Leah Nicholls, Kazan-Budd Attorney

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court held, unanimously, that states can limit access to their public records to citizens of that state. The case was McBurney v. Young, and it challenged a provision of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act providing that only Virginia citizens have the right to access records. The plaintiffs argued that the citizens-only provision violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The decision resolved a circuit split between the Fourth Circuit, which was affirmed in McBurney, and the Third Circuit, which had struck down an identical Delaware law in Lee v. Minner.

There are a handful of states that have citizens-only provisions, and the battle to eliminate them will now have to be fought in the state legislatures. I worry now that states without such provisions will be inspired to amend their sunshine laws to make it more difficult for out-of-state researchers, businesses, advocates and journalists to access state records.

Public Justice filed an amicus brief on behalf of the petitioners.