Chicago Tribune Co. v. University of Illinois
680 F.3d 1001 (7th Cir. 2012)
In 2009, the Chicago Tribune was conducting an investigation into allegations that the University of Illinois had a special recruitment track for well-connected families. In order to gain information about the scope of this program, the Tribune used state freedom of information requests to seek records related to the program. The university said that disclosing records about scholarships would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that prohibits disclosure of student academic records. The Tribune sued, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois agreed that FERPA did not prohibit the disclosure of the records in question. The University of Illinois appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
In 2011, the SPLC and a coalition of media and First Amendment groups filed a brief in support of the Tribune, arguing at universities repeatedly use FERPA to cover up abuses of the public trust and to undermine the clear purpose of state open records laws. The records at issue in this case involved nothing more personal than the name of the student.
In 2012, the Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the decision with orders to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the entire case was a question of state law and that there was no federal question for the federal courts to answer.