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Court Case

Brennan Center v. Department of State

The Brennan Center filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the Department of State over records related to the president’s travel bans.

Published: October 4, 2017

On October 2, 2017, the Brennan Center -- in conjunction with Muslim Advocates and Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against the Department of State for documents related to the "worldwide review" of information-sharing practices, policies, and capabilities of all foreign countries. The administration says it used reports related to this review, which have not been disclosed, as the basis for making a permanent a travel ban overwhelmingly targeting predominantly Muslim countries. 

This litigation involves a subset of documents requested under a FOIA request filed in July 2017. In addition to documents pertaining to the worldwide review, that broader request sought records pertaining to the Trump Administration's "extreme vetting" policies, which are burdensome visa screening initiatives targeted at certain categories of applicants, and which are likely to most impact Muslims. Given the wide-ranging impacts that extreme vetting and the Muslim ban have had on both communities at home and overseas, the public has a right to know more about how they came to be.

In response to a January 2018 court order in the FOIA litigation at issue, the government produced an index containing cursory descriptions of the documents withheld and the FOIA exemptions applicable to them, but the index provided was insufficiently detailed to evaluate whether the documents were properly withheld. The parties are now briefing summary judgment on whether: 1) the government’s search for relevant documents was adequate; and 2) the FOIA exemptions used to justify withholding relevant documents are appropriately claimed.

Dissenting in Trump v. Hawaii, Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited government disclosures compelled by this lawsuit as evidence that the worldwide review was not conducted in good faith: “Ongoing litigation under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the September 2017 report the Government produced after its review process was a mere 17 pages…[t]hat the Government’s analysis of the vetting practices of hundreds of countries boiled down to such a short document raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the President’s proclaimed national-security rationale.” 138 S. Ct. 2392 at 2443.

Read the complaint here

Read the Motion for Summary Judgement here

Read the Brennan Center's report on Extreme Vetting here.

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