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“Vengeful And Ridiculous”: A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin

The latest technique used by conservatives to silence liberal academics is to demand copies of e-mails and other documents. Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli of Virginia tried it last year with a climate-change scientist, and now the Wisconsin Republican Party is doing it to a distinguished historian who dared to criticize the state’s new union-busting law. These demands not only abuse academic freedom, but make the instigators look like petty and medieval inquisitors.

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)

The party refuses to say why it wants the messages; Mr. Cronon believes it is hoping to find that he is supporting the recall of Republican state senators, which would be against university policy and which he denies. This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, March 25, 2011

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideologues, Politics, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Supreme Court: No ‘Personal Privacy’ Rights for Corporations Under Freedom Of Information Act

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that corporations do not have the same privacy rights as individuals when it comes to blocking requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, the federal statute that requires the government to make available certain documents and records.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the language of the transparency law clearly precluded corporations like AT&T, the plaintiff in the case, from claiming it had “personal privacy” rights that could prevent the public release of certain requested information on file with government agencies. The case arose when a trade association representing some of AT&T’s competitors sought access to information the company had submitted to the Federal Communications Commission as part of an investigation into whether it had overcharged the government for services provided to schools and libraries. AT&T sued to block release of the information.

Roberts wrote: “AT&T’s argument treats the term ‘personal privacy’ as simply the sum of its two words: the privacy of a person. Under that view, the defined meaning of the noun ‘person,’ or the asserted specialized legal meaning, takes on greater significance. But two words together may assume a more particular meaning than those words in isolation. We understand a golden cup to be a cup made of or resembling gold. A golden boy, on the other hand, is one who is charming, lucky, and talented. A golden opportunity is one not to be missed. ‘Personal’ in the phrase ‘personal privacy’ conveys more than just ‘of a person.’ It suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concerns — not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T.”

The ruling will not necessarily result in the release of all (or even most) corporate records submitted to regulators or investigators. The Information Act contains a number of other “exceptions” upon which corporations like AT&T may rely in seeking to block information from being made public through FOIA requests.

The decision came just six weeks after the justices heard oral argument in the case, a quick turnaround that suggested, along with the unanimous decision and Roberts’ relatively short 15-page ruling, that the court did not view the matter as a particular close call. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from consideration or deliberation in the case because of her work on it as solicitor general.

By: Andrew Cohen, Legal Analyst-Politics Daily, March1, 2011

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Privacy, Supreme Court | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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