Supreme Court Citations: McBurney v. Young and Boyer v. Louisiana

April 30, 2013

McBurney v. Young – Docket No. 12-17 – 2013 WL 1788080

Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) grants Virginia citizens access to all public records, but grants no such right to non-Virginians. Petitioners are citizens of States other than Virginia who filed records requests under the Act. After each petitioner’s request was denied, they filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the dormant Commerce Clause. The District Court granted Virginia’s motion for summary judgment, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Virginia’s FOIA does not violate either the Privileges and Immunities Clause or the dormant Commerce Clause.

Regarding the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Court held that the right to access public information is not a “fundamental” privilege or immunity of citizenship.  The Virginia FOIA’s citizen/noncitizen distinction has a nonprotectionist aim: it is a mechanism for Virginia citizens to obtain an accounting from their public officials.  The distinction between citizens and noncitizens also recognizes that citizens alone foot the bill for the fixed costs of recordkeeping in the state. And Virginia’s FOIA clearly does not deprive noncitizens of “reasonable and adequate” access to Virginia courts; state court rules provide noncitizens access to nonprivileged documents needed in litigation, and Virginia law gives citizens and noncitizens alike access to judicial records and to records pertaining directly to them.

Neither does Virginia’s FOIA violate the dormant Commerce Clause. Virginia’s FOIA neither prohibits access to an interstate market nor imposes burdensome regulation on that market. Accordingly, this is not properly viewed as a dormant Commerce Clause case.

Justice Alito delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.  Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.


Boyer v. Louisiana – Docket No. 11–9953 – 2013 WL 1788077

The question certified had been whether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant should be weighed against the state in determining whether there was a deprivation of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.  The writ of certiorari was dismissed as improvidently granted.

Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, stating that the record before the Court does not support the proposition that delay in the trial court was caused by the State’s failure to fund the defense.  The concurrence identifies the largest source of delay as the defense’s requests for continuances and other defense motions, and other delay caused by events beyond anyone’s control such as Hurricane Rita.

Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, stating that the Court’s precedents provide a clear answer to the question: that a delay due to lack of funding should weigh against the state.  The court below found that the majority of the seven-year delay in this case was caused by lack of funding by the state, but did not weigh this factor against the state as being out of the state’s control.  Because this factor should have been weighed against the state–because the state bears ultimate responsibility for adequately funding an indigent’s defense–the dissent would have remanded.