Thursday, May 11, 2006

Delaware's Restrictions on Freedom of Information in Federal Court Today

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is an interesting beast. Sometimes it's the only way to get information in a timely manner from a government agency.

There's a Federal Act for the Federal Government, and individual Freedom of Information Act requests for the states. After working for the courts in Delaware for a number of years, I saw more than a couple of Federal Freedom of Information Act requests directed at Delaware agencies. I can't tell you how they were treated ultimately, since I was responsible for passing those along, instead of making any decisions at all upon them. But, ideally FOIA requests for State Information should follow the state law governing it.

There's an issue with Delaware's Freedom of Information Act that presently has a review of the law in Federal Court right now. It was only available to residents of the State of Delaware, when a Federal District Court Judge decided that the restriction to state residents was inappropriate and unconstitutional.

In a State like Delaware, where so many Fortune 500 companies are incorporated, it's likely that information requests made to Delaware's Government will arrive from residents of other states. The request at the heart of this dispute involved an activist who had questions regarding a merger of two financial companies. His request was denied because he lived in New York. He brought the case to Federal court, where that limitation was removed.

The Delaware Department of Justice appealed that decision, and a three judge panel held oral arguments on the issue. Is this type of restriction an unconstitutional limitation on interstate commerce? See: Judges skeptical of Delaware's limits on public records access.

I don't understand the restriction myself. Maybe someone could articulate a reason for it to me. It sounds like the judges asking the Delaware Attorney present were having problems with that, too.

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