Court Rules General Assembly is exempt from FOIA, Open Records Requests

The Fifth Division of the Court of Appeals of Georgia recently ruled that the Georgia General Assembly may lawfully refuse to turn over records related to the business of the people of Georgia. “The General Assembly is not subject to a law unless named therein or the intent that it be included [is] clear and unmistakable,” reasoned the 5-judge panel, effectively exempting the legislative branch from the rule of law.

The Court ruled against the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law group that ran into barriers while investigating systemic barriers to small business.

Access to the law we are assumed to live under is a fundamental tenet of self-governance. Without the right to review their own laws, Georgians will continue to be denied due process, equal protecting, and access to justice. The intent of the Open Records Act is to protect citizens’ and journalists’ rightful interest in the proceedings of their government, and exempting the legislative or ‘people’s branch’ mocks that goal. The effect is to shield government offices and agencies from the rightful scrutiny and justified suspicion of citizens, voters, and journalists.

The ruling is the latest in a series of losses for advocates of transparency and good governance, as Georgia government weaves itself a shroud of secrecy and immunity for bad behavior.

In May, WSB-TV filed requests for the names and salaries of Georgia House and Senate staffers, but were rebuffed by lawmakers who claimed to be exempt from transparency laws. Journalists’ requests for documents related to investigations and settlements related to sexual assault by Georgia legislators have also been denied under similar reasoning.

In 2017, state officials sued public records activist Carl Malamud after he copied the complete Georgia law code, which he purchased from the state for $1200. Every bill passed by the General Assembly is prefaced “An Act to amend the Official Code of Georgia Annotated,” which means Georgians are governed by a code they have no protected right to read or access. The state claims the annotations are the Assembly’s original content, and entitled to copyright protection and contracted for access through LexisNexus.

Georgia Courts have failed utterly to protect the rights of individuals against abusive government. The Libertarian Party continues to fight for liberty and equal protection of the law for all persons, but we’re up against ever-strengthening powers-that-be. If you can spare a few hours or dollars to help us raise awareness of such corruption, please consider volunteering to help us protect all of your rights, all of the time.