(CN) – The government must disclose the names of the thousands of applicants denied clemency by former President George W. Bush, the D.C. Circuit ruled Thursday.
The federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s order requiring the Department of Justice to provide retired Washington Post reporter George Lardner with a list of people who applied for clemency under the Bush administration.
“Fundamentally, the disclosure of the requested information shines a light on the most basic information about the executive’s exercise of his pardon power — who is and who is not granted clemency by the President,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
The government appealed, arguing that Kollar-Kotelly’s decision ignored the privacy rights of clemency applicants and exposed them to “double stigma.”
The Justice Department also doubted Lardner’s “assertion that such disclosure would help to elucidate the extent to which inappropriate ethnic considerations may infect the pardon process,” according to the D.C. Circuit.
In their unpublished opinion, Circuit Judges Douglas Ginsburg, Merrick Garland and Judith Rogers said the government’s “confidentiality and stigma concerns are undermined” by letters sent by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, informing applicants that it might release information about their applications upon request.
The government publicly discloses the names of applicants granted clemency and will release information about an applicant in response to an individual request. Though it admittedly keeps a list of the applicants denied clemency, it does not release that information to the public.
The court said the requested list of names is not a law enforcement record and would not prejudice any investigation, as the government claimed. The panel also noted that the Justice Department never argued that the list would implicate national security or is protected by the presidential communications privilege.
“The incremental value of the withheld information is not speculative in view of the Inspector General’s Report on whether impermissible considerations played a role in pardon determinations,” the panel concluded.
During his two terms in office, Bush rejected more than 9,200 applications for pardons and commutations of sentences, according to the Legal Times blog.