United States Department of Defense v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

PETITIONER: United States Department Of Defense et al.
RESPONDENT: Federal Labor Relations Authority et al.
LOCATION: Landfill

DOCKET NO.: 92-1223
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 510 US 487 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1993
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1994

ADVOCATES:
Christopher J. Wright - on behalf of the Petitioners
David M. Smith - on behalf of the Respondents
Rossie D. Alston, Jr. - for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc., as amicus curiae urging reversal

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States Department of Defense v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1993 in United States Department of Defense v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 23, 1994 in United States Department of Defense v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Clarence Thomas:

The second case I have is No. 92-1223, United States Department of Defense versus Federal Labor Relations Authority.

It is before us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Two labor unions requested the petition of Federal Agencies to provide them with the home addresses of the employees in the bargaining units represented by the unions.

The agencies refused.

The respondent Federal Labor Relations Authority, ordered the agencies to divulge the addresses.

The Court of Appeals granted enforcement of the authority's orders agreeing that disclosure was not barred by the Privacy Act of 1974 and holding that the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which I will refer to as the labor statute required the agencies to release the addresses.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse due to several statutory cross-references disclosure of the addresses sought under the labor statute is forbidden in this case by the Privacy Act unless such disclosure would be required under the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA.

Intern, disclosure would be requiring under FOIA unless it falls within FOIA Exemption 6, which exempts from disclosure personnel files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

In deciding whether Exemption 6 applies, we must weigh the relevant public interest in disclosure against the employees' interest in keeping their home addresses private.

The appropriate public interest to be weighed in this balance is the extent to which disclosure would serve FOIA's core purpose of contributing significantly to public understanding of the government's operations and activities.

Under our precedents the public interest in collective bargaining embodied in the labor statute is irrelevant in this analysis.

In this case, the public interest and disclosure is negligible at best because disclosure of the home addresses would not appreciably further the citizen's right to know what their government is up to.

On the other hand, the employees have at least some non trivial privacy interest in non disclosure and in avoiding the influx of union related mail and perhaps the union related telephone calls or visits that would follow such disclosure.

Because the privacy interest outweighs the relevant public interest, FOIA Exemption 6 applies.

FOIA thus, does not require the petitioners to disclose the addresses and the Privacy Acts prohibits their release.

Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.