A nonpartisan legal watchdog group, Fix the Court, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against two government agencies that have refused to release documents related to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. For almost a year, the Trump administration has refused to release over 20,000 documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the government during the Bush administration.
Fix the Court filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice on Sept. 5, 2017. The group requested documents that contained every correspondence Kavanaugh was involved in during his time as White House counsel to President George W. Bush. The request stated:
I am requesting access to and copies of the following: All correspondence sent by the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel and his or her primary deputy to Brett M. Kavanaugh and all correspondence sent by Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel and his or her primary deputy from January 20, 2001, to May 30, 2006.
The documents have yet to be released and the DOJ has reportedly told the group that their requests are “in the queue.” Fix the Court proceeded to submit another FOIA request on April 4, 2018 to the National Archives and Records Administration. This request asked for all documents related to Kavanaugh’s time working with Kenneth Starr, a former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh was a part of Starr’s investigation team that looked into the alleged suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster. Kavanaugh found that Foster’s death was a suicide and argued to the Supreme Court that he could get Foster’s lawyer to turn over notes from their conversation before his death. The court rejected this request in a 6-3 vote.
NARA has claimed that there are around 20,000 documents related to Kavanaugh and his involvement in the Starr investigation. They went on to say it would take 22 months to five years or more to hand over all of the documents. However, FOIA laws require agencies to respond to requests, complete the requests and hand over the documents in a timely manner, as determined in federal statutes.
Fix the Court, with co-plaintiffs American Oversight, filed individual lawsuits against each agency on Tuesday. The group claims that the agencies failed to conduct adequate document searches, did not comply with federal timelines for providing the documents and were ultimately wrongfully withholding information. Fix the Court’s Executive Director Gabe Roth announced the lawsuits in a press release, saying in a statement:
As we learned with the Gorsuch nomination, federal agencies seem determined to make it as difficult as possible to obtain public records from judicial nominees. With Heightened interest in Judge Kavanaugh’s eventful time in government, the National Archives and the Justice Department should seek to resolve those complaints quickly and release the documents so the American public and their representatives in the Senate can make a more informed judgment ahead of a confirmation vote.
Fix the Court previously filed a lawsuit against the DOJ in January of 2017 after they failed to produce records related to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s tenure as a deputy assistant attorney general. Now, Fix the Court faces the same red tape as they attempt to gain documents related to Kavanaugh. The group is hoping for a court order that would force the DOJ and NARA to release all of the documents within 20 days.