I'm incredibly proud of the Cavalier Daily for wading into the controversy surrounding UVA's response to the American Tradition Institute's request of a former professor's email on climate change.
The school paper penned an editorial for Monday's edition that carefully addressed a report prepared by the American Constitution Society suggesting that state FOIA laws should be reformed to protect academic freedom.
I was puzzled, though, by one phrase in the editorial. When pointing out that recent FOIA requests were politically and ideologically motivated, the article said, "the requests have generated more controversy than genuinely revelatory material pertaining to their subjects, suggesting that state FOIA laws are not being used as intended."
FOIA laws not being used as intended.
I'm not sure what that means. Is there legislative history from 1968 that gave a statement about how the law should be used? Is there a policy statement in current law to that effect?
No. The current policy statement about FOIA says only, "By enacting this chapter, the General Assembly ensures the people of the Commonwealth ready access to public records in the custody of a public body or its officers and employees, and free entry to meetings of public bodies wherein the business of the people is being conducted."
In addition, the General Assembly has repeatedly rejected attempts over the years to impose any kind of "purpose" test into FOIA, meaning, it doesn't matter why someone wants records. It is not up to the government, or you or I, to decide who has a proper reason for wanting the records and who doesn't.
Some say FOIA is supposed to educate the electorate so it can make informed decisions when voting. Some say FOIA is for records that will show "how government works." There may be other theories, too.
So, what is the intended use of FOIA?