Supreme Court hears arguments in out-of-state FOI case

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McBurney v. Young, a case involving out-of-state public records requests. Virginia is one of a handful of states that limits access to public records to citizens of the state, the idea being that out-of-staters don’t pay the taxes that support the operational costs of providing access to public records.

The SPLC, along with 20 other media groups in a brief filed in 2011, disputes that idea, arguing instead that residency requirements make watchdog journalism more difficult and unfairly discriminate against out-of-state requestors. The ruling, expected in the next few months, will have great significance on journalists who wish to use public records from states other than their own.

The case, in a nutshell: The two plaintiffs, Mark McBurney and Roger Hurlbert, are non-residents who sued for access to records. McBurney sought records related to child support payments that his wife, a Virginian, defaulted on, but was denied access. Hurlbert is a data collector who specializes in property assessments and other tax-related documents. At issue before the Court is whether Virginia’s law violates an individual’s right to access public records and whether it violates an individual’s right to conduct business across state lines.

For a full recap of the day’s arguments, check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis at SCOTUSblog. The full transcript of the hearing is also available online.