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On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states have no constitutional obligation to honor public records requests from non-residents. Journalists, who frequently rely on freedom of information laws to expose corruption and break open stories, fear that the decision may make it harder for them to access public records.
MuckRock, a website that files public records requests on behalf of activists, journalists, and private citizens for a small fee and posts the resulting records online, has a solution. The website has been helping out-of-staters seeking public records in Virginia and seven other states with similar laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee—by pairing them with locals willing to co-file the requests. After Monday’s decision, MuckRock began offering free website subscriptions to citizens of those states to help keep that information flowing.
MuckRock cofounder Michael Morisy, who also works for the Boston Globe, says he “fully expects more states to at least look into adding these laws as they look for ways to cut down on costs for complying with public records requests and generally decrease the amount of people accessing this tool.”
That more states might move to block out-of-staters from filing open-records requests was apparent long before the Supreme Court’s decision, Morisy says. In the decades since federal and state Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, laws were first passed in the 1960s, states have added numerous exemptions limiting who can request information and narrowing the types of information that can be disclosed. But the court’s decision, he adds, is a “major step back.”
This Website Will Help You Outsmart the Supreme Court’s Anti-Transparency Ruling