A watchdog group that filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for records about a federal investigation into former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) scored a victory yesterday by winning a court ruling that could increase public access to records about the handling of federal corruption probes, Politico reports. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled unanimously that the FBI was wrong to withhold all records of the DeLay probe. The judges rejected Justice Department arguments for the withholding, including claims that release of any documents could improperly invade DeLay’s privacy, or could disrupt ongoing investigations or enforcement proceedings.
“Although a substantial privacy interest is at stake here, in light of the similarly substantial countervailing public interest, the balance does not characteristically tip in favor of non-disclosure,” wrote Judge Karen Henderson. The judges did not order the disclosure of any particular records, but said a lower court needs to evaluate the arguments for and against disclosure in a less categorical fashion. The group that filed the lawsuit, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the decision reflected how the Justice Department was not living up to promises President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder made to increase government transparency.