High Court: Loan data is public information

Posted: March 22, 2011

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court decided Monday not to stop the release of Federal Reserve Board documents identifying financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The high court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal from an association of bankers trying to keep the information from becoming public.

News Corp.'s Fox News Network L.L.C. and Bloomberg L.P. had sued separately for details about loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. Other news agencies, including The Associated Press, filed briefs with the appellate court in their support. The news organizations argued that the data should be made available under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City agreed, saying such information is not automatically exempt from requests under the act.

The Federal Reserve had argued that if it identified banks that drew emergency loans, it could cause a run on those institutions, undermine the loan programs, and potentially hurt the economy. The Fed acts as a lender of last resort for banks that cannot get money from private sources.

The Fed said in a statement Monday that it would "fully comply" with the court's decision and was preparing to make the information available. The Fed noted that some of the information relating to emergency lending was already released Dec. 1 under last year's Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law.

The Obama administration had asked the high court not to hear the appeal. But The Clearing House Association, which represents some of the nation's largest banks, wanted the high court to review the decision. The Clearing House Association said it was "disappointed" that its petitions were rejected.

In the Fox case, the appeals court ruled that the documents should be available for review by news organizations and the public.

In the Bloomberg case, the court rejected the Fed's argument that identifying the banks and providing other information would harm them and discourage other distressed banks from seeking the Fed's help. The court said the disclosure requirements under FOIA are set by Congress, not the court.

Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in this decision because she worked on this case while serving as solicitor general.

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