Milner v. Department of the Navy Decided

September 9, 2010

Under what circumstances may a federal agency withhold documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act on the ground that they relate "solely to the internal personnel rules and practices" of the agency?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally favors the disclosure of public documents subject to certain specific exemptions that the Supreme Court has ruled should be narrowly construed. Exemption 2 allows federal agencies to withhold documents sought under FOIA if the documents sought relate "solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the agency." Despite the statutory language, some courts have interpreted Exemption 2 to permit the withholding of a broader class of documents if they are "predominantly internal" and their disclosure presents a risk that agency regulations will be circumvented. Joining with other public interest organizations, the ACLU argues in an amicus brief that that this expansive interpretation of Exemption 2, known as "High 2," is inconsistent with the language of FOIA as well as its overriding goals of transparency and accountability.

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