MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari
The facts of the case, in its present posture,
Respondents then sued in the District Court, seeking, inter alia, the requested documents. The District Court held that "the documents sought by plaintiffs . . . are, as a matter of law, public and non-exempt within the meaning of 5 United States Code [§] 552, and plaintiffs are entitled to judgment . . . as a matter of law."
A divided Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court "insofar as appellants rely upon Exemption (3)," but remanded the case for consideration of other exemptions which the FAA might wish to assert. 162 U. S. App. D. C. 298, 498 F.2d 1031 (1974). Examining first what it felt was the ordinary meaning of the language of Exemption 3, the Court of Appeals held that its language required the exempting statute relied on to specify or categorize the particular documents it authorizes to be withheld. Because § 1104 delegated "broad discretionary authority" under a "public interest" standard, it was held not within the scope of Exemption 3. The Court of Appeals distinguished this Court's decision in EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973), on the ground that the exemption involved in that case was construed to be a specific reference by Congress to a definite class of documents, namely those that must be kept secret " `in the
This case involves no constitutional claims, no issues regarding the nature or scope of "executive privilege," but simply the scope and meaning of one of the exemptions of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552. EPA v. Mink, supra, at 94 (STEWART, J., concurring). The Act has two aspects. In one, it seeks to open public records to greater public access; in the other, it seeks to preserve the confidentiality undeniably essential in certain areas of Government operations. It is axiomatic that all parts of an Act "if at all possible, are to be given effect." Weinberger v. Hynson, Westcott & Dunning, 412 U.S. 609, 633 (1973). Accord, Kokoszka v. Belford, 417 U.S. 642, 650 (1974).
We have construed the Freedom of Information Act recently in NLRB v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 421 U.S. 132 (1975); Renegotiation Board v. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., 421 U.S. 168 (1975); Renegotiation Board v. Bannercraft Clothing Co., 415 U.S. 1 (1974); EPA v. Mink, supra. In Mink, the Court set out the general nature and purpose of the Act, recognizing, as did the Senate committee report, that it is not " `an easy task to balance the opposing interests . . .' " and " `provid[e] a workable formula which encompasses, balances,
That history must be read in light of the legislation in existence when the Act was passed; that history reveals "clear evidence that Congress was aware of the necessity to deal expressly with inconsistent laws." Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases, 419 U.S. 102, 129 (1974). Congress was aware, as it undertook a painstaking review, during several sessions, of the right of the public to information concerning the public business; it was aware that it was acting not only against the backdrop of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, supra, but also on the basis of a significant number of earlier congressional decisions that confidentiality was essential in certain departments and agencies in order to protect the public interest. No distinction seems to have been made on
The respondents can prevail only if the Act is to be read as repealing by implication all existing statutes "which restrict public access to specific Government records." Ibid. The term "specific" as there used cannot be read as meaning that the exemption applies only to documents specified, i. e., by naming them precisely or by describing the category in which they fall. To require this interpretation would be to ask of Congress a virtually impossible task. Such a construction would also imply that Congress had undertaken to reassess every delegation of authority to withhold information which it had made before the passage of this legislation—a task which the legislative history shows it clearly did not undertake.
Earlier this Term, MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, speaking for the Court in the Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases, supra, noted that "repeals by implication are disfavored,"
The discretion vested by Congress in the FAA, in both its nature and scope, is broad. There is not, however, any inevitable inconsistency between the general congressional intent to replace the broad standard of the former Administrative Procedure Act and its intent to preserve, for air transport regulation, a broad degree of discretion on what information is to be protected in the public interest in order to insure continuing access to the sources of sensitive information necessary to the regulation of air transport. Congress could not reasonably anticipate every situation in which the balance must tip in favor of nondisclosure as a means of insuring that the primary, or indeed sole, source of essential information would continue to volunteer information needed to develop and maintain safety standards. The public interest is served by assuring a free flow of relevant information to the regulatory
It was inescapable that some regulatory authorities be vested with broad, flexible discretion, the exercise of which was made subject to continuing scrutiny by Congress. Following passage of the Act, "[g]eneral oversight into the administration of the Freedom of Information Act [was] exercised by the [House] Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee and the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure." H. R. Rep. No. 92-1419, pp. 3-4 (1972). It is not insignificant that this overall scrutiny of the Act in 1972 brought no change in Exemption 3. Indeed, when Congress amended the Freedom of Information Act in 1974, it reaffirmed the continued vitality of this particular exemption, covering statutes vesting in the agencies wide authority. S. Conf. Rep. No. 93-1200, p. 12 (1974); H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 93-1380, p. 12 (1974).
Moreover, Congress amended the Act in 1974 to require that all agencies submit to each House, on an annual basis, "the number of determinations made by such agency not to comply with requests for records . . . and the reasons for each such determination." 88 Stat. 1564, 5 U. S. C. § 552 (d) (1) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). In light of this continuing close scrutiny, we are bound to assume that Congress exercised an informed judgment as to the needs of the FAA and that it was persuaded as to the necessity, or at least of the practical compatibility, of both statutes.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring in the judgment.
Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552 (b) (3), provides for nondisclosure of "matters that are . . . specifically exempted from disclosure by statute." Section 1104 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, 72 Stat. 797, 49 U. S. C. § 1504, specifically provides that when "[a]ny person" objects to the public disclosure of certain information, "the Board or Administrator shall order such information withheld from public disclosure when, in their judgment, a disclosure of such information would adversely affect the interests of such person and is not required in the interest of the public." The Court today rules that information may be withheld under § 1104 by reason of Exemption 3.
Legislation of unusually broad scope often reflects reconciliation of conflicting values and policies. On occasion, therefore, particular provisions of such legislation may seem at odds with its basic purpose. But when the statutory language is relatively clear and the legislative history casts no serious doubt, the only appropriate judicial course is to give effect to the evident legislative intent.
So it is here. The Freedom of Information Act was enacted in order to impose objective and easily applicable statutory disclosure standards in place of relatively amorphous standards such as the "public interest," behind which the most self-serving motives for nondisclosure of information could be concealed. EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79 (1973); and see, e. g., S. Rep. No. 813,
Simply stated, the respondents' position is that to allow administrative discretion under a general "public interest" standard to determine whether information shall be disclosed to the public is inconsistent with the general thrust of the Freedom of Information Act. For this Court to accept that position, it must accept its inevitable corollary: that by enacting the Freedom of Information Act, Congress intended to repeal, by implication alone, those statutes that make disclosure a matter of agency discretion.
Our role is to interpret statutory language, not to revise it. As matters now stand, when an agency asserts a right to withhold information based on a specific
On this basis, I concur in the judgment of the Court.
"(a) Each agency shall make available to the public information as follows:
"(3) Except with respect to the records made available under paragraphs (1) and (2) of this subsection, each agency, upon any request for records which (A) reasonably describes such records and (B) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any), and procedures to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person." 5 U. S. C. § 552 (a) (3) (1970 ed., Supp. IV).
Exemption 3, which was not amended in 1974, is provided by 5 U. S. C. § 552 (b) (3), which reads as follows:
"(b) This section does not apply to matters that are—
"(3) Specifically exempted from disclosure by statute."
Prior to the 1974 amendments, § 552 (a) (3) read, in pertinent part: "Except with respect to the records made available under paragraphs (1) and (2) of this subsection, each agency, on request for identifiable records made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees to the extent authorized by statute, and procedure to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person. . . ." 5 U. S. C. § 552 (a) (3).
"Any person may make written objection to the public disclosure of information contained in any application, report, or document filed pursuant to the provisions of this chapter or of information obtained by the Board or the Administrator, pursuant to the provisions of this chapter, stating the grounds for such objection. Whenever such objection is made, the Board or Administrator shall order such information withheld from public disclosure when, in their judgment, a disclosure of such information would adversely affect the interests of such person and is not required in the interest of the public. The Board or Administrator shall be responsible for classified information in accordance with appropriate law: Provided, That nothing in this section shall authorize the withholding of information by the Board or Administrator from the duly authorized committees of the Congress."