WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered her first opinion Thursday, ruling against an environmental group that had sought access to government records.
It is something of a tradition for new justices to be assigned a case in which the court is unanimous for their first opinion, but it doesn’t always happen. Both of Trump’s other nominees, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wrote unanimous first opinions. Sotomayor also got a unanimous opinion for her first assignment, but President Barack Obama’s other nominee, Justice Elena Kagan, was assigned a first opinion where the court divided 8-1.
The opinion Barrett wrote involved the environmental group the Sierra Club, which sued seeking access to federal government documents involving certain structures used to cool industrial equipment and their potential harm to endangered wildlife. Barrett began by explaining that FOIA makes “records available to the public upon request, unless those records fall within one of nine exemptions.” Those exemptions include “documents generated during an agency’s deliberations about a policy, as opposed to documents that embody or explain a policy that the agency adopts.”
Barrett said the documents the Sierra Club was seeking were draft documents that did not need to be disclosed. And she dismissed concerns the group had raised that ruling against it would encourage officials to “stamp every document ‘draft’” to avoid disclosing them. Barrett said that if “evidence establishes that an agency has hidden a functionally final decision in draft form” then it won’t be protected from disclosure requirements.