The Virginia Coalition for Open Government joined at least 20 other journalism and advocacy groups urging the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to overturn a federal district court ruling that upheld Virginia's limitation on the use of the state's Freedom of Information Act to citizens of the Commonwealth (and newspapers covering Virginia).
The lower court agreed that the plaintiffs had standing to sue (a technical issue that was previously disputed), but also ruled the citizenship limitation does not burden fundamental rights within the Privileges & Immunities Clause.
The court agreed with the AG that because the plaintiffs wanted to use the records for their own personal benefit, instead of for participating in or writing about the political process, then a fundamental right was not at stake.
The amicus brief, prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, was filed March 23.
The brief makes two main arguments: (1) Access to information is necessary to the pursuit of journalism, which serves the public interest, and (2) Virginia's citizens-only provision prohibits non-citizens from engaging in the common calling of journalism.
VCOG has generally argued that a person's interest in a state or locality does not necessarily end at the border. There are people in the military who think of Virginia as home but who are stationed in another state. Adult children who live in one state may need nursing home information for a parent who lives in Virginia. It also makes little sense that someone from Bristol, Va., can get records related to the city's goings-on, but someone from Bristol, Tenn., even if he/she works there, owns property there or has family there, cannot.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court in Philadelphia struck down a similar limitation provision previously found in Delaware law.
Virginia is one of only a handful of states with such a limitation. Tennessee, New Jersey and Georgia are similarly limited.
A decision from the 4th Circuit is expected in the next few months.