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Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Abramson

United States Supreme Court
456 U.S. 615 (1982)


Facts

Howard Abramson (plaintiff) was an investigative reporter interested in whether the White Housed used the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (defendant) to obtain damaging information about political opponents. On June 23, 1976, Abramson filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for documents relating to the transmittal from the FBI to the White House in 1969 of information concerning certain individuals who had criticized the White House. The FBI denied the requests on grounds that the information fell within the exemptions from disclosure because they were unwarranted invasions of personal privacy. After unsuccessful appeals within the FBI, Abramson filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to enjoin the FBI from withholding the records. During the pendency of the suit, the FBI provided Abramson with 84 pages of documents. Abramson then revised his request to seek only the material withheld from a single document, a memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover to John D. Ehrlichman regarding a “name check” on 11 public figures. The “name check” memorandum also contained 63 pages of summaries and attached documents of information about the individuals culled from FBI files. The district court found that the FBI had failed to show that the information was compiled for law enforcement rather than political purposes, but found for the FBI because the disclosure of the material was an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The court of appeals reversed. The FBI appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

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Dissent (O’Connor, J.)

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