U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court upholds Virginia laws that deny public records to residents of other states. The trend has been for states to open their records on an equal basis.

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2013

WASHINGTON — Americans do not have a right to obtain public records from states other than their own, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, dealing a setback to businesses and researchers who gather data across the nation.

The unanimous decision upheld laws in Virginia and a handful of other states that release some public records only to their own citizens.

“This is disappointing. We have a national information economy now, and all sorts of activities depend on data from all 50 states,” said Washington attorney Deepak Gupta, who represented two men who had challenged the “citizens only” provision of Virginia’s public records law.

Despite the ruling, Gupta said the trend has been for states to open their public records on an equal basis. Only two other states — Arkansas and Tennessee — decline to do so, he said. “It’s not realistic for states to wall off their public information,” he said.

Roger Hurlbert, a Northern California man who runs a business obtaining hard-to-find real estate records, sued to challenge Virginia’s law. He was joined by Mark McBurney, a Rhode Island man who wanted to know why the Virginia agency that enforces payments of child support had been slow in processing a payment from his former wife, who lived in Virginia.

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