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 GorsuchLoaded poll questions harm civil discourse Grassley to take back Judiciary gavel if GOP keeps Senate in 2020 Brent Budowsky: SCOTUS will affirm US v. Nixon MORE wrote in the majority opinion.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Katie Hill calls out a 'double standard' in final floor speech Brent Budowsky: SCOTUS will affirm US v. Nixon MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoJustices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act Justices appear divided over expanding police officers' traffic stop power Brent Budowsky: SCOTUS will affirm US v. Nixon MORE, Elena KaganElena KaganOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act Justices appear divided over expanding police officers' traffic stop power MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump rips ABC over Epstein coverage MORE signed on to Gorsuch's majority opinion.

Justices Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerJustices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act Justices appear divided over expanding police officers' traffic stop power Brent Budowsky: SCOTUS will affirm US v. Nixon MORE, Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgJustices appear divided over expanding police officers' traffic stop power Loaded poll questions harm civil discourse Clintons tell Ginsburg they struggled to complete 'RBG workout' MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorJustices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act Justices appear divided over expanding police officers' traffic stop power A Border Patrol agent shot their son — will the Hernandez family get their day in court? 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."