The names of people who President George W. Bush rejected for executive clemency cannot be withheld under the Freedom of Information Act’s privacy exemptions, a federal district court ruled July 31.
The ruling came after open government advocate George Lardner sued the Department of Justice when the Office of the Pardon Attorney refused to provide him with the names of people who applied for clemency and were rejected.
The pardon office is a part of the Department of Justice. Its job is to help the president in evaluating clemency petitions. Lardner sought the names of more than 7,000 people whose applications for pardon or clemency during the Bush administration were rejected.
The pardon office withheld the information, citing Freedom of Information Act exemptions for personal privacy and medical records and for law enforcement records.
"[C]lemency applicants have no reasonable expectation that the existence of their application and the eventual outcome of their request for clemency will be kept confidential," the court said in rejecting the personal privacy claim. Any privacy interests at stake were deemed to be minimal. The court also found that the public had an interest in the information so that it may know what the government is up to.
The law enforcement exemption the pardon office wanted to use covers records that, if disclosed, would amount to an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. In rejecting that claim the court found that the records Lardner was seeking — contained in a database of rejected individuals and not the actual clemency files — were not law enforcement records.
Editor’s note: this item originally reported this as a U.S. Court of Appeals decision.