RIP MARK SCHLEFER, THE MAN WHO MADE FOIA HAPPEN.

AuthorCiaramella, C.J.

MARK SCHLEFER, WHO died in November at age 98 in Vermont, lived a full life that included 36 combat missions on a bomber crew in World War II and starting a fund to provide tuition assistance for minority children at D.C.-area private schools. But he will be best remembered for helping draft the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a landmark federal law that opened up government records to the public.

In the early 1960s, Schlefer was working as a maritime lawyer on behalf of a shipping company that had been denied tariff documentation by the Federal Maritime Commission to stop at the Mariana Islands. When Schlefer asked for a copy of the legal opinion justifying the decision, he was told it was confidential.

Schlefer couldn't believe that the government's interpretation of the law his client was expected to follow was secret, but he soon learned that he wasn't the only one getting stonewalled. When he brought his problem to the American Bar Association, he learned that two other members of the body were already working with Rep. John Moss (D-Calif.) to draft a transparency bill.

Moss was also working with the American Society of News Editors, which had published an alarming report on government secrecy in 1953. The government's classification system ballooned in the midst of the Cold War, and there was no clear right to see government records and no clear judicial remedy for those who were denied access.

Moss' interest in transparency started after he picked a fight with the Eisenhower administration over records on nearly 3,000 federal employees it had fired for having Communist ties. He had been needling successive administrations over their undue secrecy for nearly a decade when Schlefer walked into his office with a draft of the legislation that would become the Freedom of Information Act.

"I had planned just to leave [the draft] with him, but he asked me to sit," Schlefer later wrote in The Washington Post. "After reading it slowly and carefully, he looked up and said, 'Mr. Schlefer, I'll deliver the House. You deliver the Senate."'

It was an uphill battle. Twenty-seven federal agencies testified on the proposed legislation, all of them in opposition. The Justice Department argued that the bill was unconstitutional because it would violate the separation of powers. But by 1966, Moss...

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