Brief Fact Summary.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act granted citizens of Virginia the right to inspect and copy all public records. It did not grant this right to citizens of other states.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The citizens-only provision of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not violate the Constitution. States may grant their own citizens the right to access public records without granting that same right to citizens of other states. The right to access public information is not a fundamental privilege protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The right to pursue a common calling, the right to own and transfer property, and the right to access the courts are fundamental privileges that are protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause.a
The dormant Commerce Clause prohibits economic protectionism-that is, regulatory measures designed to benefit in-state economic interests by burdening out-of-state competitors.View Full Point of Law
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act granted citizens of Virginia the right to inspect and copy all public records. It did not grant this right to citizens of other states. The plaintiffs were citizens of other states who unsuccessfully sought information under the Act.
Does the Virginia Freedom of Information Act violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause or the Dormant Commerce Clause?
No, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause nor the Dormant Commerce Clause.
Justice Thomas concurred to argue that the Dormant Commerce Clause does not exist.
The Supreme Court began its analysis by asserting that the Priviliges and Immunities Clause only protects privileges and immunities among citizens of different states that are fundamental. The paintiffs alleged that Virginia’s citizens-only FOIA provision violated four different fundamental privileges, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The first alleged fundamental privilege was the opportunity to pursue a common calling. According to the Supreme Court, laws violate the privilege of pursuing a common calling only when thohse laws were enacted for the purpose of burdening out-of-state citizens. The Supreme Court found that the burden on out-of-state citizens here was incidental to Virginia’s citizens-only FOIA provision, not the purpose of it. The plaintiffs next argued that the provision at issue violated the right to own and transfer property in the commonwealth. The Supreme Court held that the provision did not violate this right, because it did not prevent out-of-state citizens from accessing records that are necessary for transfering property. The plaintiffs’ third alleged violated fundamental right was the right to access public proceedings. The plaintiffs argued that their access to the courts was effectively burdened because the citizens-only provision created an information asymmetry between adversaries based solely on state citizenship. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, finding that the appropriate test was whether the non-resident was given access to the courts upon reasonable terms that are adequate for the enforcing of any right the noncitizen may have, even if the terms are not technically the same as those accorded to residents. The Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ fourth argument that the challenged provision violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause by denying them the right to access public information on equal terms with citizens of Virginia. According to the Supreme Court, no such right existed.
The Supreme Court also held that the citizens-only provision did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause begause it neither regulated nor burdened interstate commerce, rendering the Dormant Commerce Clause inapplicable.