Supreme Court Denies Release of Vince Foster Photos

The Supreme Court ruled that the Freedom of Information Act does not compel releasing photographs of death scene photos of Vince Foster.

In a unique Freedom of Information Act case, The Supreme Court has ruled that releasing the death-scene photographs of Vincent W. Foster, the Clinton administration’s deputy White House counsel who killed himself in 1993, would be an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of his family members.

The lawsuit was filed by a California lawyer, Alan J. Favish, who said he doubted that Foster had committed suicide. The Court, however, said that his “bare suspicion” of other reasons for the death were not enough to invade the privacy of the Foster family.

The opinion overturned a 2002 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco). The earlier decision by the Court of Appeals ruled that four of the eleven photos must be released.

The Supreme Court’s decision sought to balance the public’s interest in disclosure of the photographs and the privacy interest of the family. The Court did not define the public interest that would be necessary for releasing the photographs in other cases.

In this case, the person filing the suit suspected the government had acted improperly. That would apparently have been sufficient for release of the photographs if there was evidence to support a belief by a reasonable person that government officials had acted improperly. But, in the absence of this evidence, the Court came down on the side of the privacy interest of the family.

You can download the decision from the link on the left hand side of the page.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47