30 April 2013

Law in Plain English: McBurney v. Young

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

McBurney v. Young

McBurney is a citizen of Rhode Island with ties to Virginia through divorce, child custody, and child support decrees. He filed a Virginia FOIA request for documents pertaining to his application for child support. The Commonwealth denied his request on the grounds that he was not a citizen of Virginia. A second party, Hurlburt, was a California citizen and a business owner who requested assessment records for real estate in Virginia. His request was also denied. Both claimed that Virginia's FOIA law, which restricted access to only those who were citizens of Virginia, violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause ("The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."). Hurlburt also alleged that the law violated the Dormant Commerce Clause because it prevented him from pursuing any business stemming from Virginia public records on substantially equal terms with Virginia citizens. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s FOIA law does not violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which protects only those privileges and immunities that are “fundamental,” nor does it violate the dormant Commerce Clause because the FOIA law does not regulate commerce in any meaningful way. As a result, Virginia's FOIA law is not unconstitutional.The practical impact of this decision is that states can restrict the access of information available via FOIA to its own citizens, especially when much of that information is available to other state's citizens through other means.
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