Court Battles

Barrett authors first Supreme Court majority opinion against environmental group

Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday issued her first majority opinion since joining the Supreme Court in October, siding against an environmental group that sought access to government records.

In the 7-2 ruling, Barrett wrote that the records detailing internal agency deliberations did not need to be turned over under a federal public disclosure law. The five other conservatives and liberal Justice Elena Kagan joined Barrett’s opinion, with liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in dissent.

Barrett, former President Trump’s third high court nominee, joined the bench in late October after a fast-tracked confirmation process following the death of liberal stalwart Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Barrett’s opinion in the case, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, was based on the first oral argument she sat for as a new justice on Nov. 2, a day before the 2020 election.

In an 11-page ruling against Sierra Club, the court found that the draft documents in question were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which requires public disclosure of certain government documents upon request.

Barrett wrote that the records were shielded under a FOIA exemption that allows agencies to keep internal deliberation under wraps in order to encourage frank discussion among officials.

“To encourage candor, which improves agency decisionmaking, the privilege blunts the chilling effect that accompanies the prospect of disclosure,” Barrett wrote.

The case was brought by the Sierra Club after it was denied documents associated with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water intake regulation that the Fish and Wildlife Service initially determined would be harmful to endangered species.

The EPA took that draft opinion under advisement, ultimately drafting a rule the service found would not adversely affect protected species.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Donald Trump Elena Kagan Ruth Bader Ginsburg Sonia Sotomayor Stephen Breyer Supreme Court
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