The nation’s high court on Monday wrestled with whether government spending records from the nation’s largest food safety-net program are records that Congress intended to be released under a key federal transparency law.
Much of the argument in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Mediacentered on the meaning and intent of the word “confidential” and its use in the Freedom of Information Act, which Congress passed in 1966 to make government records available to the public.
The Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocers and other retailers, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue after a lower court ruled that spending records from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be released to the public.
Justices appeared conflicted between upholding the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law and the desire to stick to the literal meaning of the word “confidential.”
“One of the aims of FOIA was to make information public despite official willingness,” Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.
But Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the word “confidential” was presumed to mean something different in another section of the FOIA law. “Why should we give the same word two different meanings?” he said.
I can see why it would be nice for recipients to have their names kept secret. They don’t want to be harassed or marketed to. Also, there might still be a scrap of shame associated with receiving welfare that people don’t want to be shamed. Frankly, I don’t think there is a societal stigma on receiving food stamps anymore… at least if the line at Woodman’s is any guide.
But I don’t see any overriding governmental interest that would require this information to be kept secret. They are receiving public money and the taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going. This information should be public.