11.20.14

Judiciary Committee Unanimously Approves Leahy-Cornyn FOIA Improvement Act

. . . Nine Judicial Nominees Also Approved At Thursday Business Meeting

WASHINGTON (Thursday, November 20, 2014) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) that strengthens the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.

The FOIA Improvement Act requires Federal agencies to adopt a “Presumption of Openness” when considering the release of government information under FOIA, and it aims to reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public. The legislation also provides the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), an office created by the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act in 2007 the authority and tools it needs to help mediate FOIA disputes, with additional independence and authority to carry out its work.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our Nation’s most important laws. It is about giving Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” said Senator Leahy, who chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing in March on FOIA, where he outlined his concerns about the growing use of exemptions. “It is up to us as Democrats and Republicans to work together to ensure that open government is a reality for the people we serve. I thank Senator Cornyn for his strong partnership on this issue, and I hope all Senators will support our legislation.”

Leahy urged the Senate to quickly take up and pass the FOIA Improvement Act, and send it to the House for approval so it can be signed into law before the end of the year. The bill is supported by more than 70 groups that advocate for government transparency, as well as the Sunshine in Government Initiative, and it marks the fourth collaboration between Leahy and Cornyn on legislation to support FOIA. The two joined together in 2007 on the OPEN Government Act, and in 2009 on the OPEN FOIA Act, which requires Congress to clearly state its intentions when providing statutory exemptions to FOIA in new legislation. In 2012, the two successfully steered to Senate passage of the Faster FOIA Act, to curb the growing backlogs of FOIA requests and reduce delays in granting requests.

An outline of the FOIA Improvement Act can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

Eight nominees to fill vacancies on our Federal district courts and one nominee to the U.S. Court of International Trade were also reported on Thursday. Those nominees now join 20 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation by the full Senate.  There are currently 61 judicial vacancies throughout the country, and Leahy urged the Senate to approve the pending nominees who could fill some of those seats before the end of the year.

Results and a webcast of Thursday’s executive business meeting can be found online.

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