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FOIA Suits Filed by Nonprofit/Advocacy Groups Double Under Trump

“Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suits filed by nonprofit and advocacy organizations seeking access to federal government records have more than doubled since President Trump assumed office. This sudden burst in FOIA activity is a marked departure from the slower rise that had prevailed during much of the previous two presidential administrations. In FY 2001, nonprofit lawsuits accounted for one out of every seven federal FOIA suits filed. Today nonprofit filings make up over half. Fueling this rise were two forces. First, more and more nonprofits are going to court to challenge the government’s refusal to release requested records. Second, some organizations are returning to court with increasing frequency. Nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups that filed just a single suit were the most numerous during the past 18 years. Despite their larger numbers, the single filers only accounted for 15 percent of all FOIA lawsuits filed by nonprofits. At the other extreme, slightly over one in ten (11%) of nonprofits filed five or more FOIA cases. This much smaller group accounted for two out of every three lawsuits nonprofit groups filed. Judicial Watch, Inc. led the list, filing a total of 391 new suits during the past 18 years. The American Civil Liberties Union was in second place with 130 suits. In third place was Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with 94 suits followed closely by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with 88. In fifth place was the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) with 74 FOIA suits. This research, conducted for the FOIA Project by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, documents the increasingly important role played by nonprofit organizations in challenging unlawful withholding by agencies through court action. Despite changes in the party that held the presidency over the past 18 years, there was surprising continuity in which organizations remained the most active litigators. Yet as a growing number of nonprofit organizations joined the ranks of FOIA filers, some new organizations have emerged as new frequent filers. Thus far during the Trump presidency, while Judicial Watch remains the most active filer, two new groups — American Oversight and the Democracy Forward Foundation — edged out the American Civil Liberties Union in the rankings for second and third most frequent FOIA filers. In fifth place, was WildEarth Guardians.”

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