States can restrict public records to residents, Supreme Court rules

In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving requests for public records from out-of-state residents.

Monday, the court issued its unanimous opinion in the case, McBurney v. Young, finding that state laws that limit the access of records to state residents are constitutional. The right to access public records is not “‘fundamental’ privilege … of citizenship,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

“The Court has repeatedly stated that the Constitution does not guarantee the existence of FOIA laws,” Alito wrote. “Moreover, no such right was recognized at common law or in the early Republic. Nor is such a sweeping right ‘basic to the maintenance or well-being of the Union.'”

The court’s decision is a disappointment for media organizations, many of which, including the Student Press Law Center, filed briefs in support of the two plaintiffs. Only a handful of states currently restrict access to residents, but the ruling could prompt others to reconsider their public records laws.

For an analysis of the court’s legal arguments, check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis at SCOTUSblog.