SCOTUS Rejects 1st Cir. Planned Parenthood Case

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 17, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

SCOTUS decided to let stand a First Circuit decision to shield Planned Parenthood documents from an anti-abortion group. Customarily, SCOTUS did not give any reasoning for its decision.

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia both dissented. They stated that confusion in the lower courts over the federal Freedom of Information Act should get SCOTUS review.


The originally controversy -- New Hampshire Right to Life v. Dept. of Health and Human Serv. -- arose out of a 2011 lawsuit, which led to a New Hampshire decision to stop awarding money to Planned Parenthood after concerns were raised that the state taxpayer's money was being used to help pay for abortions. Right to Life petitioned for federal funding and provided necessary documentation. But when the group requested the documentation on the way back, their request was denied -- ostensibly under an exception to FOIA.

The First Circuit ruled against Right to Life, finding that the documents were subject to an exemption to FOIA protecting "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential."

Funding Abortions?

The case is troubling for some conservative lawyers who believe that SCOTUS's refusal to hear the case will mean that, at least in the interim, American taxpayers will continue to potentially fund abortions.

The denial of review is also noteworthy because it is one of only a few instances in which Justice Thomas has written a lead opinion -- or in this case, dissent. In his strongly worded dissent, Thomas intimated that the lower courts had manipulated the language of the FOIA in order to cause confusion or to "cause competitive harm." The denial of review of the case presents a troubling gap in judicial interpretation for how to properly apply a test that even the normally silent justice Thomas described as "amorphous."

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