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Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied: Judges Fail To Rule in a Timely Manner on FOIA Cases

The FOIA Project at the Newhouse School TRAC/Syracuse University Report – “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed to ensure the public’s right to know what their government was doing. Response delays have become a perennial problem. Federal officials increasingly ignore FOIA deadlines for responding, forcing FOIA requesters to take them to court. As a result, the number of FOIA lawsuits have been rising because federal agencies were often not responding at all. Now the FOIA Project has documented that federal district court judges are increasingly failing to rule in a timely manner when requesters are forced to file suit to enforce FOIA requirements. As of the end of FY 2020, the number of FOIA cases pending in the federal district courts climbed to 1,683. This is more than three and a half times the number of pending cases ten years ago when the pending court caseload in FY 2010 was just 467. While the FOIA court backlog grew by 12 percent between FY 2019 and FY 2020, the growth in cases that had been already waiting for lengthy periods of time grew much faster. For example, FOIA cases that had been pending for forty-eight months or more grew by nearly fifty percent (46%) just in the past year. A total of 83 FOIA cases had been waiting for five or more years and the court had still not decided the case. A dozen FOIA cases had been pending for ten years or more and were still awaiting resolution at the district court level. All these delays have practical consequences. Sometimes individuals require records to deal with pressing personal matters. Others seek information on immediate public policy issues. Because of these delays, for example, FOIA requesters who sought records about Trump administration policies often will not obtain them until long after President Trump has left office. And unless matters change, the same will be true for FOIA requesters seeking records about the new Biden administration’s policies.”

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