Epa v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973)

Author: Justice Stewart

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Epa v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973)

MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.

This case presents no constitutional claims, and no issues regarding the nature or scope of "Executive privilege." It involves no effort to invoke judicial power to require any documents to be reclassified under the mandate of the new Executive Order 11652. The case before us involves only the meaning of two exemptive provisions of the so-called Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552.

My Brother DOUGLAS says that the Court makes a "shambles" of the announced purpose of that Act. But it is Congress, not the Court, that, in § 552(b)(1), has ordained unquestioning deference to the Executive’s use of the "secret" stamp. As the opinion of the Court demonstrates, the language of the exemption, confirmed by its legislative history, plainly withholds from disclosure matters "specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy." In short, once a federal court has determined that the Executive has imposed that requirement, it may go no further under the Act.

One would suppose that a nuclear test that engendered fierce controversy within the Executive Branch of our Government would be precisely the kind of event that should be opened to the fullest possible disclosure consistent with legitimate interests of national defense. Without such disclosure, factual information available to the concerned Executive agencies cannot be considered by the people or evaluated by the Congress. And with the people and their representatives reduced to a state of ignorance, the democratic process is paralyzed.

But the Court’s opinion demonstrates that Congress has conspicuously failed to attack the problem that my Brother DOUGLAS discusses. Instead, it has built into the Freedom of Information Act an exemption that provides no means to question an Executive decision to stamp a document "secret," however cynical, myopic, or even corrupt that decision might have been.

The opinion of my Brother BRENNAN dissenting in part makes an admirably valiant effort to deflect the impact of this rigid exemption. His dissent focuses on the statutory requirement that "the court shall determine the matter de novo. . . ." But the only "matter" to be determined de novo under § 552(b)(1) is whether, in fact, the President has required by Executive Order that the documents in question are to be kept secret. Under the Act as written, that is the end of a court’s inquiry.*

As the Court points out,

Congress could certainly have provided that the Executive Branch adopt new procedures, or it could have established its own procedures subject only to whatever limitations the Executive privilege may be held to impose upon such congressional ordering.

But in enacting § 552(b)(1), Congress chose, instead, to decree blind acceptance of Executive fiat.

* Similarly rigid is § 552(b)(3), which forbids disclosure of materials that are "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute." Here, too, the only "matter" to be determined in a district court’s de novo inquiry is the factual existence of such a statute, regardless of how unwise, self-protective, or inadvertent the enactment might be.


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Chicago: Stewart, "Stewart, J., Concurring," Epa v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973) in 410 U.S. 73 410 U.S. 95. Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YL9UQ7U8EPZHLU.

MLA: Stewart. "Stewart, J., Concurring." Epa v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973), in 410 U.S. 73, page 410 U.S. 95. Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YL9UQ7U8EPZHLU.

Harvard: Stewart, 'Stewart, J., Concurring' in Epa v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973). cited in 1973, 410 U.S. 73, pp.410 U.S. 95. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YL9UQ7U8EPZHLU.