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Court Revives Call for Commerce Disclosure

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit rejected the government's claim that a watchdog group lacks standing to sue over the Department of Commerce's alleged failure to disclose what was discussed at North American Competitiveness Council meetings, because the agency doesn't "control" the council.

The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed dismissal of the lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch. The watchdog organization had sued the Department of Commerce and its secretary for alleged violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

According to Judicial Watch, the U.S. government violated the Act by failing to provide public records of its council meetings with Mexican and Canadian government officials.

Senior Circuit Judge Williams said the injury requirement was "obviously met," because an agency's refusal to disclose legally required information "constitutes a sufficient injury."

However, it disagreed with the lower court's decision to dismiss the case based on Commerce's lack of control over the council.

"Given the duties FACA prescribes for government agencies, Commerce's lack of control over others is of no consequence," Williams wrote.

Assuming the council and its sub-groups are "advisory committees" under the Act, the court wrote, Commerce is bound by its obligations under FACA.

Williams noted that Commerce agents could have generated the meeting minutes themselves, if the council refused to cooperate.

The court reversed and remanded, concluding that Judicial Watch has standing to sue.

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