The United States Supreme Court this week refused to accept a New Hampshire case stemming from a 2011 federal grant to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
New Hampshire Right to Life has attempted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain all documentation from PPNNE and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the grant, which was awarded to PPNNE by HHS in a noncompetitive process after the New Hampshire Executive Council voted to deny PPNNE a state contract in June 2011. New Hampshire Right to Life then filed the FOIA request in an effort to learn how the surprise federal grant was awarded. Some but not all of the requested documentation has been produced, in redacted form. With this week’s denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court, efforts under FOIA to obtain the missing documents are stalled.
NHRTL has been represented in its litigation by Alliance Defending Freedom and attorney Michael Tierney of Manchester, NH. In a statement released after this week’s Court action, ADF said, “HHS says it can’t release the documents because doing so might affect Planned Parenthood’s ‘competitive position’ if it faces a commercial grant competitor in the future. HHS also refused to produce information about its own debates over how to sell the controversial decision to the public.”
Tierney added, “Americans deserve to know if their tax money is being funneled to groups that are misusing it. We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would consider this case, which would have addressed whether the government can continue to veil its support for Planned Parenthood. HHS is withholding documents that are critical in evaluating apparently illegal funding that the [Obama] administration provided to the abortion giant despite New Hampshire’s grave concerns and without following normal protocols. We are pleased, however, that the district court ruled in our favor on the vast majority of other documents we requested.”
“All attempts to obtain full transparency with regard to this federal non-competitive grant have been rejected,” said NHRTL president Jane Cormier. “NHRTL believed it was time the taxpayer of NH receive all the facts regarding the spending of their tax dollars.”
In an interesting development, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia published their reasons for wanting to grant review in the case. Denial of certiorari usually comes with no comment by the Court. “The First Circuit’s decision warrants review,” wrote Thomas. “It perpetuates an unsupported interpretation of an important federal statute and further muddies an already amorphous test. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.”
Thomas and Scalia thus acknowledged that lower courts have taken conflicting views of what constitutes appropriate exemption from FOIA. The Supreme Court, had it taken the case, could have addressed the conflicts. A grant of certiorari requires support from four Justices.
In August of this year, the New Hampshire Executive Council once again denied a contract to PPNNE. At that time, PPNNE claimed that denial of the $638,000 two-year contract threatened health care for thousands of women. PPNNE spent $1.5 million on “public policy” and nearly a million dollars on fundraising in 2014, according to the financial report attached to its 2015 contract application.
(Case: New Hampshire Right to Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, docket #14-1273, cert. denied 11/16/15.)
Related post on Leaven for the Loaf (7/18/15).