Representative Elijah E. Cummings and Sixteen Additional Members of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee (Seven Member Rule Case)
The Clinic represents seventeen members of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, including its ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, in an action against the General Services Administration (“GSA”) seeking information relating to the agency’s implementation of GSA’s lease of the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., to a company controlled by President Donald Trump.
In August 2013, the GSA entered into a lease agreement with the Trump Old Post Office LLC, a company owned by Donald Trump and his children, permitting the company to convert the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, just two blocks from the White House, into the Trump International Hotel. To avoid conflicts of interest, the lease specifies that “No member of Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States . . . shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
Prior to Trump’s inauguration, the GSA informed the incoming President that he would have to divest his interest in the hotel. Trump refused to do so, and post-inauguration, GSA switched its position, giving Trump a green light to retain his interest in the hotel.
The House Oversight Committee is responsible for oversight of GSA, and the plaintiffs in the case –the Democrats on the Committee –demanded that GSA provide them with information on GSA’s justification for its about face on whether Trump’s ownership interest violates the lease, the extent to which the White House influenced that decision, and the extent to which the hotel is profiting from foreign governments.
The case is based on a statute called the Seven Member Rule, 5 U.S.C. § 2954, which authorizes any seven members of the House Oversight Committee, and any five members of the corresponding oversight committee in the Senate, to obtain any records from any Executive agency. The complaint was filed in early November, and briefing on the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and the defendant’s inevitable motion to dismiss, will take place in the beginning of 2018.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
The Clinic represents the NRDC in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case seeking information about how one of President Trump’s political appointees may be acting to impermissibly weaken chemical safety rules.
In April 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Dr. Nancy Beck to lead the EPA’s chemical safety office. Dr. Beck is an industry insider and served for years as a senior director at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s lobbying arm. Fearing that Dr. Beck was unlawfully and unethically using her position to weaken vital chemical safety rules, the NRDC submitted a FOIA request seeking information about Dr. Beck’s involvement in these rulemakings.
When the EPA failed to respond to NRDC’s request, NRDC filed suit in federal court and enlisted the help of the clinic in litigating the case. The clinic represents the NRDC in all aspects of the litigation. The clinic succeeded in negotiating a settlement of EPA’s claims that NRDC’s request was impermissibly vague, and we now await production of records according to a mutually agreed-upon schedule. We anticipate summary judgment motion practice once the agency’s search and productions are complete.
Center on Privacy & Technology
The Clinic represents Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology in a case seeking the release of information about the New York City Police Department’s pervasive use of facial recognition technology.
As part of a year-long project culminating in the publishing of its groundbreaking report, the Perpetual Lineup, Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology submitted freedom of information requests to more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country seeking information about the agencies’ use of facial recognition technology. The Center submitted one such request to the New York City Police Department, which was denied. The Center filed suit in New York Supreme Court, and the case is currently pending before Justice Shlomo S. Hagler. Clinic Staff Attorney Stevie Glaberson argued the case before Justice Hagler in November 2017, after which the NYPD was ordered to renew its search for responsive records. The Clinic continues to press for the disclosure of records currently being withheld.