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Federal appeals court allows US Trade Representative to withhold documents

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the US Trade Representative (USTR) [official website] can legally withhold classified documents regarding free trade negotiations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. US District Court Judge Richard Roberts ruled [opinion, PDF] last year that the document should be released to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) [official website], finding that there was no reason to justify withholding it. The appeals court, however, reversed the order and gave deference to the USTR's judgment after determining that forcing disclosure of the classified position paper "could limit the flexibility of U.S. negotiators" in the future.

US Courts have dealt with many FOIA cases recently, on both state and federal levels. In April the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously in McBurney v. Young [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that Virginia has the right to exclude non-residents from accessing state records under its FOIA [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in March reversed [JURIST report] a lower court ruling which allowed the CIA [official website] to refuse to confirm or deny whether it has records pertaining to the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists. The case arose from a FOIA claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] requesting records on the CIA's drone program regarding the legal justification for using drones and information concerning civilian casualties. In March 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] 8-1 in Milner v. Department of the Navy [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the government may not withhold certain information under the FOIA. This case originated [JURIST report] when petitioner Glen Scott Milner filed an FOIA request with a US Navy magazine relating to the explosive safety quantity distance (ESQD) of explosives stored in a naval magazine near Milner's home.

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