The Supreme Court hears arguments today in the case of California lawyer Allan Favish, who alleges a government coverup in the 1993 death of Vincent Foster, deputy White House counsel. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), he wants 10 color photos taken by police after Foster’s body was discovered in a national park in Virginia.
The Christian Science Monitor says that the government won’t release the photo. Officials and Foster’s family members say public disclosure of the photos would violate the family’s right to privacy and force them to relive the episode.
The case has major implications for news organizations and government watchdogs who battle agencies for access to government information. The Monitor says it is a classic struggle between a citizen’s right to know versus another citizen’s right to be left alone.
“When a high-ranking government employee dies a violent death, the public has a right to know if that death occurred in the manner claimed by the government,” says Favish. Lawyers for Foster’s widow and sister disagree. “Favish’s ghoulish attempt to obtain and publicize photographs of Vince Foster lying dead in Fort Marcy Park is not supported by any legitimate public interest,” says Washington lawyer James Hamilton.
Five investigations have concluded that Foster committed suicide. U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson says the government has investigated and rejected Favish’s questions. “FOIA’s carefully crafted protection of personal privacy would be rendered an empty promise if it could be overcome by little more than an idiosyncratic distrust of government or the creative spawning of conspiracy theories,” says Olson’s court brief.