High court won’t review denial of access to Justice database
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. Supreme Court in mid-October refused to hear an appeal brought by a magazine that sought information contained in a Justice Department database used for legal research. The Court thereby let stand rulings that found the database is not subject to disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The Justice Department database, called JURIS, is an electronic warehouse of federal court cases and other legal information that Justice Department attorneys use to conduct research.
The database was run by the Justice Department until 1983, when it contracted West Publishing to provide most of the information. The company continued to manage JURIS until 1993, when the Justice Department began using West’s Westlaw as its legal database.
In 1993, Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group that publishes information about tax decisions by federal courts, made a FOI Act request for information contained in the JURIS database. After the government denied the request under the Act’s proprietary exemption, Tax Analysts filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. seeking disclosure.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the lawsuit in mid- January 1996, ruling that West had a proprietary interest in “the electronics product it has created . . . the electronically formatted case law, administration decisions and other material.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. upheld the dismissal of Kessler’s case in January.
Tax Analysts’ latest appeal claimed that the lower courts wrongly dismissed the case without allowing a pretrial discovery process to show that the contents of the database should be considered public information. (Tax Analysts v. Dep’t of Justice)