Description: Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel disclosure of communications between a NOAA climate scientist and the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration.
Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Commerce
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 11/25/2020 Memorandum Opinion Download Department of Commerce's renewed motion for summary judgment granted. Federal Court Said NOAA Justified Redaction of Communications Between Climate Scientist and White House During Obama Administration. The federal district court for the District of Columbia upheld the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) redaction of certain communications between a NOAA climate scientist and the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from January 20, 2009, through January 20, 2017. The court concluded that the Freedom of Information Act’s deliberative process privilege shielded the redactions from disclosure. The redacted material fell into four categories: draft analysis of lab work, discussions with OSTP about scientific interpretation and impacts of environmental data sets, discussions with OSTP about a draft memorandum analyzing a Cato Institute memorandum or a Wall Street Journal article, and communications about the content and presentation of press releases and talking points. The court found that a Vaughn index and declaration were sufficient to demonstrate that the redacted material was predecisional and deliberative. The court further found that NOAA satisfied the “foreseeable harm” standard of the FOIA Improvement Act with explanations of why disclosure of the information would endanger “frank discussions between subordinates and superiors” and potentially create “public confusion.” The court was not persuaded by the plaintiff’s argument that NOAA’s real reason for withholding the information was fear of “agency embarrassment” and “painting the agency in a negative light.”