Definition of ‘confidential’ government records broadened by U.S. Supreme Court in South Dakota decision

By: Rox Laird on June 27th, 2019

A Sioux Falls, S.D., newspaper’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on its federal Freedom of Information Act request for grocery stores’ food stamp records resulted in a reversal for the newspaper and for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. And businesses now will have a stronger confidentiality claims for information they provide to the U.S. government.

The Supreme Court on June 24 handed down a decision holding that the ordinary meaning of the term “confidential” in the FOI Act means information that the owner of the information does not freely share. Thus, because grocery stores do not voluntarily disclose their food-stamp sales data, the Court reasoned, records of food-stamp spending at grocery stores collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may be withheld from public disclosure by the government.

“At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is ‘confidential’ ” under the FOI Act, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for a six-member majority.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate opinion partially concurring and partially dissenting.


Eighth Circuit case on food-stamp records to be argued at U.S. Supreme Court April 22

By: Rox Laird on April 19th, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that likely will decide whether a Sioux Falls, S.D., newspaper should have access to food-stamp spending at specific retail stores.

Considerable interest has been generated by this case. More than a dozen organizations – representing the retail industry, public interest groups and First Amendment advocates – have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. (Go to the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket page to read the briefs and lower court rulings in the case.)

The U.S. Solicitor General, who represents the government in cases before the Supreme Court, filed a brief in support of the Food Marketing Institute and the retailers. The Solicitor General will also participate in Monday’s oral arguments.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for records that show how much federal money was paid to reimburse individual food retailers for purchases made by participants in the department’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the new name for what was known as the food-stamp program.


U.S. Supreme Court denies Iowan’s appeal challenging Fourth Amendment exception

By: Rox Laird on December 4th, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from an Iowa man who argued that his drunk-driving conviction was the product of an unconstitutional search and seizure.

The Court on Monday issued a list of cases considered at the justices’ Nov. 30 conference, and no new cases were accepted for review.


Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Voting Rights Act Provision: What It Means For Iowa

By: Administrator on June 25th, 2013

By Colin Smith

Today, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a principal section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The case, Shelby County v. Holder, held that Section 4 of the Act was unconstitutional because it improperly subjected some states and jurisdictions to more rigorous federal oversight of their election laws than others.


Justice Thomas quotes the Iowa Supreme Court on race and the Constitution

By: Administrator on June 24th, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on race-based admissions in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The Court reversed the Fifth Circuit (which said that the University of Texas’s affirmative-action practices are okay) and sent the case back to to the lower court for a redo under the proper standard.  Full coverage of the opinion is available at SCOTUSblog, but our readers might be particularly interested in Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion.  He thinks “that a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause,” and in support of that opinion Justice Thomas said this:

My view of the Constitution is the one advanced by the plaintiffs in Brown: “[N]o State has any authority under the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.” Tr. of Oral Arg. in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 8, p. 7; see also Juris. Statement in Davis v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty.,O. T. 1952, No. 191, p. 8 (“[W]e take the unqualified position that the Fourteenth Amendment has totally stripped the state of power to make race and color the basis for governmental action”); Brief for Appellants in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 8, p. 5 (“The Fourteenth Amendment precludes a state from imposing distinctions or classifications based upon race and color alone”); Brief for Appellants in Nos. 1, 2, and 4, and for Respondents in No. 10 on Reargument in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1953, p. 65 (“That the Constitution is color blind is our dedicated belief ”). The Constitution does not pander to faddish theories about whether race mixing is in the public interest. The Equal Protection Clause strips States of all authority to use race as a factor in providing education. All applicants must be treated equally under the law, and no benefit in the eye of the beholder can justify racial discrimination.

This principle is neither new nor difficult to understand. In 1868, decades before Plessy, the Iowa Supreme Court held that schools may not discriminate against applicants based on their skin color. In Clark v. Board of Directors, 24 Iowa 266 (1868), a school denied admission to a student because she was black, and “public sentiment [was] opposed to the intermingling of white and colored children in the same schools.” Id., at 269. The Iowa Supreme Court rejected that flimsy justification, holding that “all the youths are equal before the law, and there is no discretion vested in the board . . . or elsewhere, to interfere with or disturb that equality.” Id., at 277. “For the courts to sustain a board of school directors . . . in limiting the rights and privileges of persons by reason of their [race], would be to sanction a plain violation of the spirit of our laws not only, but would tend to perpetuate the national differences of our people and stimulate a constant strife, if not a war of races.” Id., at 276. This simple, yet fundamental, truth was lost on the Court in Plessy and Grutter.


On Brief

About Us

On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.



Links