Wednesday, September 26, 2012

D.C. Circ. Court to Decide if White House is Log Cabin

Captain James T. Kirk
 (Photo credit: tychay)
It's all so simple in the Star Trek future world in which James T. Kirk disclosed the contents of his Captain's log at the outset of each episode.

In contrast, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week heard arguments in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Service (Case No. 1:12-cv-01562) in which the appeals court must decide whether to uphold a ruling last summer by United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Beryl A. Howell that granted the plaintiff conservative watchdog group access to White House visitor logs pursuant to its request under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") [5 U.S.C. sec. 552] (see "TUOL" post 8/18/11).

According to accounts on the respective Web sites of The National Law Journal and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the appellate court panel on Sept. 18 heard Department of Justice attorneys claim that the logs being sought were not Secret Service agency records created by the president's protectors subject to production under the FOIA, but rather, were records of the Office of the President, which are exempt under the Act.  DOJ attorneys also voiced concerns that the records contained confidential information, some of which had national security implications. For example, the Secret Service vets all visitors, so the records contain  background personal information, including visitors' Social Security Numbers and birthdates, and the records flag sensitive data, such as visits from prospective U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

Judge Howell, himself an appointee of President Barack Obama, agreed with Judicial Watch that the logs were under the Secret Service's control and subject to FOIA production and that it would be overreaching by the government to withhold all the data requested. Trying to allay the justices' concerns, the plaintiff's lawyers argued before the appellate panel that exemptions within the FOIA could shield sensitive material contained in the logs.

Media groups, including Bloomberg, Inc., National Public Radio and The Washington Post, as well as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, submitted amicus briefs backing Judicial Watch.  The watchdog group began its quest for the logs in 2009. The White House Web site ( has disclosed the names of roughly 2.5 million White House visitors since September 2009, in response to a voluntary initiative by the Obama Administration, but critics cite the one-and-a-half to two-month delay in the release of the data and the White House selective withholding of names it doesn't want published.
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