Image via WikipediaU.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Beryl A. Howell handed the Secret Service and the Obama Administration a setback this week, ruling that White House visitor logs are agency records subject to being produced under the Freedom of Information Act [5 U.S.C. sec. 552] unless shielded by one of the Act's exemptions.
The issue of public access to visitors lists has plagued both the Bush and Obama White House occupancies (see "TUOL" posts 9/7/09, 7/23/09), but in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Service (Case No. 09-2312(BAH)), Judge Howell's 19-page Memorandum of Decision rejected the Secret Service argument that the records at issue belonged to the White House, not the agency, and therefore, were not subject to the FOIA. Even if some of the records in question might involve national security issues, as the defendant argued, Judge Howell ruled it would be overreaching to withhold all the data requested by the plaintiff conservative watchdog group, the Politico Website reported.
Judicial Watch requested records for the period from January 2009, to September 2009, the point at which President Obama implemented a new policy allowing the release of the names of most visitors to the White House. Visitor records largely are maintained in two databases: WAVES (Workers and Visitors Entry System) and ARCS (Access Control Records System).
Although basically an "inside the Beltway" kerfuffle, the staff of "TUOL" awards a judicial independence gold start to Judge Howell, who was appointed to the bench by President Obama last year.