Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has delivered her first opinion, writing a 7-2 decision released Thursday in a case about the federal Freedom of Information Act, which Barrett explains makes “records available to the public upon request, unless those records fall within one of nine exemptions.”
Barrett, a former 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge and University of Notre Dame Law School professor, wrote for the court that certain draft documents do not have to be disclosed under FOIA.
The 20-page opinion in the case, United States Fish and Wildlife Service et al. v. Sierra Club Inc., 19-547, comes in the first case Barrett heard after joining the court in late October following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The ruling held that draft documents the Sierra Club sought from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service were protected from disclosure under the deliberative process privilege. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled for Sierra Club, but justices reversed and remanded.
“We must decide whether the privilege protects in-house drafts that proved to be the agencies’ last word about a proposal’s potential threat to endangered species,” Barrett wrote. “We hold that it does.”
The case concerns Environmental Protection Agency rules on “cooling water intake structures” that draw large quantities of water to cool industrial equipment, particularly in power plants, and whether those rules pose risks to endangered species.
Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented and would have remanded the case for further analysis of whether the underlying documents should have been considered drafts subject to the exemption.