When the law says that government officials are required to turn over documents to the public, it means that they’re actually required to turn over the documents. That’s the lesson from last week’s legal win for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in which the New York Supreme Court affirmed that state attorney general Eric Schneiderman did, in fact, have to comply with New York’s freedom of information law. CEI’s reason for seeking documents from Schneiderman’s office goes back over two years, and relates to our long-standing work on energy and climate policy.
In April 2016, CEI was served with a subpoena from the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, demanding a decade’s worth of CEI documents on its climate and energy work. About a week before that subpoena was issued, Schneiderman had held a highly publicized press conference to unveil a 17-state coalition (which included the Virgin Islands) aimed at shutting down debate over climate change. Schneiderman’s coalition had its origins in a “common interest agreement,” a two-page document laying out the coalition’s goals and operating procedures. Last week, the appellate court rejected Schneiderman’s claim of confidentiality regarding the agreement, especially given his public efforts to tout the goals of his coalition.
Read more about the case Competitive Enterprise Institute v. The Attorney General of New York here. For more on the story behind CEI’s climate work and the documents being sought by state attorneys general, see “First Amendment Fight: CEI’s Climate Change Subpoena.”