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SPJ joins amicus brief supporting court independence


For Immediate Release:

Sonny Albarado, SPJ President, 501-551-8811, spjsonny@gmail.com
Christine DiGangi, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 205, cdigangi@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has signed on to an amicus brief written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that supports the court’s role in reviewing classification claims made by the executive branch of the government under Exemption 1 of the Freedom of Information Act.

In the case of Center for International Environmental Law v. U.S. Office of the Trade Representative, the government argues that courts are not qualified and therefore should not have the ability to question executive-branch classification claims. The classified document referenced in this case outlines discussions among dozens of countries about potential changes to international laws regarding free trade and foreign investment.

The Department of Justice maintains that the document is classified and that releasing it would be a violation of trust between the U.S. and the other nations involved in the discussions. After the trial court rejected that argument, the department filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the amicus brief was filed.

In response to the government’s stance, the brief argues that courts frequently scrutinize agency classification decisions, and that deferring to the executive branch’s classification decisions does not require a de facto endorsement from the courts. It stresses the importance of the independent judicial role of evaluating exemption claims.

“Without such a procedural check grounded firmly within the judicial branch, the public stands to lose an important counterweight to overzealous and unlawful applications of Exemption 1 under FOIA,” the brief states.

As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined a brief urging public access to judicial documents in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been accused of giving classified documents to the website WikiLeaks.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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