March 4 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday protected records detailing internal governmental agency deliberations sought by an environmental group.
The ruling marked Justice Amy Coney Barrett's first majority opinion.
The high court voted 7-2 to deny a Freedom of Information Act request by the environmental group Sierra Club, which sought records related to consultations by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service with the Environmental Protection Agency.
In her 11-page ruling, Barrett wrote that the records were protected under a FOIA exemption that permits agencies to keep internal deliberation private in order to allow officials to debate openly.
"To encourage candor, which improves agency decisionmaking, the privilege blunts the chilling effect that accompanies the prospect of disclosure," she wrote.
Sierra Club initially brought the case against the services after it was denied documents regarding an EPA regulation determining that "environmental intake structures," used to cool industrial equipment, would be harmful to endangered species.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the opinions were not privileged under the FOIA exemption, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling Thursday.
"It is true, as Sierra Club emphasizes, that the staff recommendations proved to be the last word within the Services about the 2013 version of the EPA's proposed rule," Barrett wrote. "But that does not change our analysis. The recommendations were not last because they were final; they were last because they died on the vine."
Barrett officially began her tenure on the Supreme Court on Nov. 3 after a rapid confirmation process in the brief time between the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the 2020 presidential election.