Supreme Court to rule on FOIA and confidentiality of food stamp program

A New York Daily News editorial, June 5, 2019, alerted readers to an upcoming ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on the right of corporations with government contracts to decide which information to disclose to the public. The case involved the South Dakota Sioux Falls Argus Leader seeking information about federal food stamps spent at local stores. The Food Marketing Institute representing retailers sued to keep the information secret without showing that the disclosure could harm the businesses. If the court sides with companies, the editorial warned that the public would not be able through freedom of information laws to fight abuses of companies and the government.

In hearing the case in April, the Supreme Court focused much of the deliberations on the meaning of the word “confidential” that established an exclusion from disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act of 1966. The retail industry lawyer argued the government had guaranteed to retailers that the information would remain confidential, but Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned whether government promises to without information defeated the purpose of the FOIA. “To say the government can control this by making a promise that it won’t disclose,” said Ginsburg, “that seems to run counter to the whole idea of FOIA.” (Sioux Falls Argus Leader, April 22, 2019,by Jonathan Ellis)