We Ask The Supreme Court To Clarify If It's Legal For Virginia To Bar Techdirt From Filing Freedom Of Information Requests

from the restrictions-on-the-press dept

Like many media properties, we’ve filed Freedom of Information Act requests to seek out information at both the federal and state levels. The various federal and state freedom of information regulations are important tools for the public, and also for those doing journalism to seek out and report on important information that should be public. Unfortunately, some states like to limit these laws, and Virginia in particular has made its law such that it limits filings to only Virginia residents… or to a very small number of media companies that meet its “exemption” rules. Basically, it will allow freedom of information requests from “traditional newspapers, print magazines or FCC-licensed broadcast media.” So if you’re an online-only media property and not a Virginia resident, you’re out of luck.

A small number of other states also have “citizens only” clauses in their FOI laws, though Delaware’s was recently struck down as unconstitutional. However, Virginia is the only state that allows a partial exemption for some media players, but not for others. Even so, a court recently upheld Virginia’s law as constitutional. This has created both a circuit split (with different courts in different circuits finding very differently on the general issue of “citizens only” clauses), and an unfair burden on anyone doing online-only reporting and thus not qualifying for the specific exemption in Virginia’s law.

As the Supreme Court has been asked to hear an appeal of that case, we’ve signed onto an amicus brief along with the American Society of News Editors, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Ars Technica, Daily Kos, Grist, Matthew Lee, Muckrock, Automattic and Tumblr, arguing that this is an issue where existing rulings and the arbitrariness of the exemptions in the law have created massive uncertainty for anyone doing investigative reporting. So our filing is asking the Supreme Court to take the case and clarify whether or not Virginia’s restrictive law is constitutional. Hopefully, the Court recognizes the problems of the law and makes clear that, in this age when anyone can do reporting, limiting such rules to only citizens or an arbitrary definition of professional media is too restrictive.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “We Ask The Supreme Court To Clarify If It's Legal For Virginia To Bar Techdirt From Filing Freedom Of Information Requests”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Franklin G Ryzzo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Obvious troll is obvious… and underwhelming… let’s try harder…

What’s this we shit, Pirate Mike! What did your chubby fingers contribute, other than a signature. By “we” you must be referring to your army of hitlers and their rabid piracy apologist dogs. Perhaps your request would get more attention if you could have convinced your Google paymasters to sign on as well, but I guess all of the slam pieces you’ve been writing on them lately have made them reevaluate their relationship with their once favorite shill. Could your weasel words be any more… um… weasely?

P.S. broadbrush, sycophant, disingenuous, think of the children, Masnic!!!1!

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Mike Mansick’s “fan” drinking game:
1. Mike’s “fan” first shows up within the top 10 flattened spaces; 1 shot of bourbon.

2. Mike’s “fan” first shows up beyond 10 but before 20 flattened spaces:
1 shot of bourbon and 1 shot of whiskey.

3. Mike’s “fan” first shows up beyond 20 posts in flattened; combine drinks 1 and 2 and mix it with three shots of tequila.

4. Take one shot of Bloody Marry per every time Mike’s name is used in a comment.

5. Take two shots spiced rum if the term “Pirate Mike” is used in a comment.

6. Chug a pint (half liter) beer for every time Mike is called a shill in a comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“As I’ve said, I’m not a journalist, but sometimes I *do* journalism. And I think that’s true of lots of people.”

Sounds more like a dodge to escape when trapped, saying “I’m not a journalist, just a blogger” when you get caught telling less than all the truth or not bothering to check any sources.


So how about a new t-shirt with your face on it, with the message under:

“Only a Journalist When Convenient”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

My Job title? It has nothing to do with Techdirt in the least (or the RIAA, or the MPAA, or any of the European, Asian, African, Australian, or ‘Stans based movie or music industry people)

However, if it helps you out any, call it “small business owner” or “president of the company”. Perhaps that might let you dial in.

I am assuming your job title is “student”, right?

AJ (profile) says:

I hate sites like docstoc

Mike, why can’t you publish PDF files like this directly on the TD website? By all means use other services as well so people can view such files directly in their browsers if that’s what they want to do, but my laptop has a much nicer PDF file viewer than any of the browser-based services, and I refuse to give out my email address just to read a document (they almost all require a sign-up nowadays before they’ll let you download the original file).

Anonymous Coward says:


Nobody’s even commented on whether they actually think it’s constitutional or not? (That’s not the same as whether the law is a good idea.)

The argument that the residents-only law is unconstitutional is based on the Privledges and Immunities clause, which reads:

“The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”

I’m not sure that this clause can be used to declare a FOIA law unconstitutional. If you live in one state and want to apply for a fishing license in another state, it costs more. Same with college tuition. As the Supreme Court has said:

“Only with respect to those ‘privileges’ and ‘immunities’ bearing upon the vitality of the Nation as a single entity must the State treat all citizens, resident and nonresident, equally.”

Does this fall into that category? Maybe, and maybe not. The Supreme Court at one point explicitly avoided deciding what is covered: “We do not decide the full range of activities that are sufficiently basic to the livelihood of the Nation that the States may not interfere with a nonresident’s participation therein without similarly interfering with a resident’s participation.” http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/436/371/case.html

And from a really old case, we have this:

“The inquiry is what are the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states? We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole.”

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop Β»

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...