The opinion reverses a decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which came down on AT&T's side in a surprise to legal observers. AT&T had essentially argued that it has the legal status of a person on this issue, and therefore its documents should not be made public.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) immediately hailed Tuesday's decision. He said the American people (as in, not you, AT&T) "have good reason to cheer" the result.
"The Supreme Court’s well-reasoned decision is a timely boost that will help ensure FOIA remains a vibrant and meaningful safeguard for the American people’s right to know," Leahy said.
The decision is not a huge surprise because the justices had revealed a strong skepticism about AT&T's stance during oral arguments.
Part of the company's argument surrounded a mention of "person" in the statute, which was defined to include other entities and corporations. That suggests "personal privacy" should also extend to corporations, the argument went.
Chief Justice John Roberts made that sound laughable during oral arguments. Here is what he said:
"I tried to sit down and come up with other examples where the adjective was very different from the root noun. It turns out it is not hard at all. You have craft and crafty. Totally different. Crafty doesn't have much to do with craft. Squirrel, squirrely. Right? I mean, pastor -- you have a pastor and pastoral. Same root, totally different."