Supreme Court Deals Blow to Out-of-State FOIA Requesters

May 8, 2013

Journalists doing investigations in states other than the one they reside in may face new obstacles after an April 29, 2013, US Supreme Court decision on state freedom-of-information laws.

The unanimous decision held that state FOI laws could restrict the right of access to state government records to citizens of that particular state. The case, McBurney v. Young, involved a request by California resident Roger Hurlbert for Henrico County, Va., records. He sought them in the course of his business collecting real estate records for clients.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, only a "handful" of states have similar residents-only restrictions to their FOI laws (they incude Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee).

But the doctrinal impact of the decision is likely to be large, since the court held, among other things, that the First Amendment conveys no right of access to government information.