Supreme Court rules against newspaper over information request, giving confidentiality win to businesses

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled 6-3 against a newspaper seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on stores' financial data, finding that sharing the business data could harm the companies.

The Argus Leader in South Dakota had filed a FOIA request with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for stores' redemption data on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The USDA fulfilled part of the paper's FOIA request by giving them the names and addresses of the stores, but declined to provide the SNAP data under Exemption 4 of FOIA, which blocks agencies from handing over "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential."

The newspaper sued to obtain the records and originally secured rulings in its favor. But the Supreme Court found that the data is confidential.

"At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of private, the information is 'confidential' within the meaning of Exemption 4," Justice Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats take Trump tax return fight to the courts MORE wrote in the majority opinion.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Harris walks back support for eliminating private insurance | Missouri abortion clinic to remain open through August | Georgia sued over 'heartbeat' abortion law Supreme Court rejects bid to restore Alabama abortion law Supreme Court rules against Trump on census citizenship question MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoSupreme Court rules against Trump on census citizenship question Supreme Court finds that courts can't rule on partisan gerrymandering cases Supreme Court declines to overturn doctrine on regulatory clarity MORE, Elena KaganElena KaganWhite House pays tribute to late Justice Stevens Former Justice John Paul Stevens dies at age 99 Independent redistricting commission needed at state level to fight gerrymandering MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Former Justice John Paul Stevens dies at age 99 Robert De Niro nominated for Emmy for 'SNL' role playing Robert Mueller MORE signed on to Gorsuch's majority opinion.

Justices Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerHow much do you know about your government? A July 4 civics quiz  Conservative justices surprise court watchers with swing votes Trump digs in on citizenship question after Supreme Court setback MORE, Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgHow much do you know about your government? A July 4 civics quiz  Ruth Bader Ginsburg reveals 'secret' to an equal marriage The Hill's Morning Report - Harris, Warren rise and Biden tumbles after debates MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court rules against Trump on census citizenship question Supreme Court finds that courts can't rule on partisan gerrymandering cases Supreme Court declines to overturn doctrine on regulatory clarity MORE partially dissented in the case.

In that opposing opinion, Breyer argued that sharing the information "must also cause genuine harm to the owner's economic or business interests."

"The whole point of FOIA is to give the public access to information it cannot otherwise obtain," Breyer wrote. "So the fact that private actors have 'customarily and actually treated' commercial information as secret cannot be enough to justify nondisclosure."