Reporters Committee asks U.S. Supreme Court to strike residency restriction on Va. FOIA

Press Release | January 3, 2013

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 53 leading media organizations, has filed a friend-of-the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that even with a narrow exemption for media circulating or broadcasting in the state, a Virginia law restricting Freedom of Information Act requests to state residents is unconstitutional.

The Reporters Committee brief in McBurney v. Young asks the justices to reverse a Fourth Circuit decision upholding VFOIA’s limits on access to public records. The Reporters Committee also filed a brief in the Fourth Circuit.

The Virginia law, according to the Supreme Court brief, harms “the media’s ability to report on regionally and nationally significant stories and provide the public with complete and comprehensive information about the country as a whole.”

“In an age when digital communications transcend state boundaries, news media and the public have a common interest in information that provides regional and national comparisons on issues such as health care and public education,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “The very limited exception for print and broadcast publications serving the state is wholly inadequate and leaves out all forms of digital media. The bottom line is that laws that stymie any access to public information cannot stand.”

In addition to Virginia, similar citizenship references exist in public records statutes in Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee. “If this Court fails to void VFOIA’s citizenship provision, it would be in effect allowing states to continue practices of preventing all out-of-state media from obtaining public records, effectively shutting out companies and persons who cannot be considered citizens of those states,” the brief argued. “Affirmance could also embolden other states to adopt similarly restrictive legislation, further inhibiting the national press corps’ ability to report on matters of public importance at the local and regional level.”

A list of all 53 amici and a copy of the brief can be found on the Reporters Committee website.

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Release: Reporters Committee joins fight against Va. FOI restrictions

· Brief: Amicus brief in McBurney v. Young

· News: Appeals court restricts records access for non-Virginians

· Release: Reporters Committee surprised by decision restricting Va. government info to residents