The conservative advocates at Judicial Watch got a boost from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today, when it ruled that the group had standing to sue the Commerce Department over its meetings with a collection of business leaders.
The ruling gives Judicial Watch another chance to press its case that meetings and activities of the North American Competitiveness Council should be open to the public. The council is an offshoot of the Prosperity Partnership of North America, an effort begun in 2005 by U.S., Mexican and Canadian leaders to address issues of mutual concern. The NACC, which is made up with members of the business community, has met with U.S. and foreign government officials a handful of times, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Judicial Watch sued the Commerce Department in 2007, claiming the council’s activities should be subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and thus open to the public. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina of the District of Columbia dismissed the case, agreeing with the government that because it didn’t control the council, there was no way to address Judicial Watch's concerns.
The D.C. Circuit disagreed. Senior Judge Stephen Williams found that Judicial Watch’s concerns — that the public was being denied information about the council’s activities — met the threshold for a suit.
“Here the injury requirement is obviously met,” he wrote.
Moreover, the judge wrote, even if the council itself refused to cooperate with FACA rules, the Commerce Department could still create minutes or other records of their encounters.
Williams also shot down the government’s argument that Judicial Watch did not have a right to sue because the government had already provided the group with records under the Freedom of Information Act. FACA’s information requirements, he noted, were much broader.