|Reporter Jonathan Ellis and News Director Cory Myers of the|
Argus Leader at the Supreme Court in April. (USA Today photo)
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of FMI 6-3, with justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
During oral arguments in April, the justices "appeared conflicted between upholding the spirit of the freedom of information law, and the desire to stick to the literal meaning of the word 'confidential,'" Ellis reported then. "FMI and the federal government 'had argued for a broad definition that would leave ample room to keep data from the public. Media organizations and public-interest groups favored a more narrow definition requiring harm, which would make confidentiality apply to fewer FOIA requests," Ellis and Wolf report.
In the decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: "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 meaning of" the FOIA.
In the dissent, Breyer wrote: "Given the temptation, common across the private and public sectors, to regard as secret all information that need not be disclosed, I fear the majority's reading will deprive the public of information for reasons no better than convenience, skittishness, or bureaucratic inertia."
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog, wrote on Twitter, "I fear for freedom of information when Justice Gorsuch writes, 'The USDA tried to meet the paper halfway.' It was nowhere close to halfway! USDA gave the Argus Leader the names of groceries, but not what it needed for a story: how much SNAP money they got."