President Obama walks back to the West Wing of the White House this week.(Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI, (AFP/Getty Images)
Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court ruled Friday that White House visitor logs can be kept secret.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed a district court decision from 2011 that all White House visitor records are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure requirements.
The Obama administration began releasing visitor logs in September 2009 after media and public interest groups had for years sought to learn who had access to the Oval Office and other West Wing haunts. Records from before that time had not been released, and the court's ruling means presidents can revert to that policy.
The case was originally brought by the watchdog group Judicial Watch during the administration of George W. Bush, which fought to keep the records secret. In ruling against Judicial Watch, the court did grant public access to some visitor logs, but not those affecting the Oval Office.
"In both the 1974 FOIA Amendments and the 1978 Presidential Records Act, Congress made clear that it did not want documents like the appointment calendars of the president and his close advisors to be subject to disclosure under FOIA," Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote for the three-judge panel. "Granting Judicial Watch's request for certain visitor records, however, would effectively disclose the contents of those calendars."