MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the issue whether information may be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U. S. C.
In March 1974, respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that it would hold a public hearing to investigate hazards in the operation of television receivers and to consider the need for safety standards for televisions. 39 Fed. Reg. 10929. In the notice the CPSC requested from television manufacturers certain information on television-related accidents. After reviewing the material voluntarily submitted, the CPSC through orders, 15 U. S. C. § 2076 (b) (1), and subpoenas, 15 U. S. C. § 2076 (b) (3), obtained from the manufacturers, including petitioners, various accident reports. Claims of confidentiality accompanied most of the reports.
Respondents Consumers Union of the United States, Inc., and Public Citizen's Health Research Group (the requesters) sought disclosure of the accident reports from the CPSC under the Freedom of Information Act. The requesters were given access only to those documents for which no claim of confidentiality had been made by the manufacturers. As for the rest, the CPSC gave the manufacturers an opportunity to substantiate their claims of confidentiality. The requesters agreed to wait until mid-March 1975 for the CPSC's determination of the availability of those allegedly confidential documents.
In March 1975, the CPSC informed the requesters and the manufacturers that the documents sought did not fall within any of the exemptions of the Freedom of Information Act, and that even if disclosure was not mandated by that Act, the CPSC would exercise its discretion to release the material on May 1, 1975. Upon receiving the notice, petitioners filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware
The requesters did not seek to intervene in the Delaware action, nor did petitioners or the CPSC attempt to have the requesters joined. Instead, on May 5, 1975, the requesters filed the instant action in Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking release of the accident reports under the Freedom of Information Act. Named as defendants in that suit were the CPSC, its Chairman, Commissioners,
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. Consumers Union of United States, Inc. v. Consumer Product Safety Comm'n, 182 U. S. App. D. C. 351, 561 F.2d 349 (1977). That court concluded that there was a case or controversy between the plaintiffs and the CPSC on "the threshold question of the scope and effect of the proceedings in Delaware." Id., at 356, 561 F. 2d, at 354. In addition, the CPSC's conduct of the Delaware litigation was "not easily reconcilable with its ostensible acceptance of [the requesters'] argument that the requested documents should be disclosed." Id., at 357, 561 F. 2d, at 355.
On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its holding that there was a case or controversy within the meaning of Art. III.
We granted certiorari, 441 U.S. 942 (1979), because of the importance of the issue presented.
The threshold question raised by petitioners is whether there is a case or controversy as required to establish jurisdiction pursuant to Art. III. Petitioners urge here, as the District Court held below, that since the CPSC agrees with the requesters that the documents should be released under the Freedom of Information Act, there is no actual controversy presented in this suit. We do not agree.
The purpose of the case-or-controversy requirement is to "limit the business of federal courts to questions presented in an adversary context and in a form historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process." Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95 (1968). The clash of adverse parties "`sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court
The CPSC and the requesters do not want "precisely the same result" in this litigation. It is true that the federal defendants have expressed the view that the reports in question should be released and in fact notified the District Court that absent the Delaware injunction the information would be disclosed. See 400 F. Supp., at 853, n. 14. That injunction has been issued, however, and the basic question in this case is the effect of that order on the requesters. The CPSC contends that the injunction prevents it from releasing the documents, while the requesters believe that an equitable decree obtained by the manufacturers in a suit in which those seeking disclosure were not parties cannot deprive them of their rights under the Freedom of Information Act. In short, the issue in this case is whether, given the existence of the Delaware injunction, the CPSC has violated the Freedom of Information Act at all. The federal defendants and the requesters sharply disagree on this question, as has been evidenced at every stage of this litigation. If the requesters prevail on the merits of their claim, the CPSC will be subject to directly contradictory court orders, a prospect which the federal defendants naturally wish to avoid. It cannot be said, therefore, that the parties desire "precisely the same result." The requirements of Art. III have been satisfied.
The issue squarely presented is whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the requesters may obtain the accident reports under the Freedom of Information Act when the agency with possession of the documents has been enjoined from disclosing them by a Federal District Court. The terms of the Act and its legislative history demonstrate that the court below was in error.
The Freedom of Information Act gives federal district courts the jurisdiction "to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld." 5 U. S. C. § 552 (a) (4) (B). This section requires a showing of three components: the agency must have (1) improperly (2) withheld (3) agency records. Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, ante, at 150. In this case the sole question is whether the first requirement, that the information has been "improperly" withheld, has been satisfied.
The statute provides no definition of the term "improperly." The legislative history of the Act, however, makes clear what Congress intended. The Freedom of Information Act was a revision of § 3, the "public information" section, of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. S. C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). The prior law had failed to provide the desired access to information relied upon in Government decisionmaking, and in fact had become "the major statutory excuse for withholding Government records from public view." H. R. Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1966) (hereinafter H. R. Rep. No. 1497). See also id., at 4, 12; S. Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 3, 5 (1965) (hereinafter S. Rep. No. 813); EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79 (1973). Section 3 had several vague phrases upon which officials could rely to refuse requests for disclosure: "in the public interest," "relating solely to the internal
The Freedom of Information Act was intended "to establish a general philosophy of full agency disclosure," S. Rep. No. 813, at 3, and to close the "loopholes which allow agencies to deny legitimate information to the public," ibid. The attention of Congress was primarily focused on the efforts of officials to prevent release of information in order to hide mistakes or irregularities committed by the agency. Ibid.; H. R. Rep. No. 1497, at 6; Source Book 69 (remarks of Rep. Monagan); id., at 70 (remarks of Rep. Rumsfeld); id., at 73-74 (remarks of Rep. Hall), and on needless denials of information. Examples considered by Congress included the refusal of the Secretary of the Navy to release telephone directories, the decision of the National Science Foundation not to disclose cost estimates submitted by unsuccessful contractors as bids for a multimillion-dollar contract, and the Postmaster General's refusal to release the names of postal employees. See H. R. Rep. No. 1497, at 5-6.
Thus Congress was largely concerned with the unjustified suppression of information by agency officials. S. Rep. No. 813, at 5. Federal employees were denying requests for documents without an adequate basis for nondisclosure, and Congress wanted to curb this apparently unbridled discretion. Source Book 46-47 (remarks of Rep. Moss); id., at 61 (remarks
The present case involves a distinctly different context. The CPSC has not released the documents sought here solely because of the orders issued by the Federal District Court in Delaware. At all times since the filing of the complaint in the instant action the agency has been subject to a temporary restraining order or a preliminary or permanent injunction barring disclosure. There simply has been no discretion for the agency to exercise. The concerns underlying the Freedom of Information Act are inapplicable, for the agency has made no effort to avoid disclosure; indeed, it is not the CPSC's decision to withhold the documents at all.
The conclusion that the information in this case is not being "improperly" withheld is further supported by the established doctrine that persons subject to an injunctive order issued by a court with jurisdiction are expected to obey that decree until it is modified or reversed, even if they have proper grounds to object to the order. See Howat v. Kansas, 258 U.S. 181, 189-190 (1922); United States v. Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258 (1947); Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307, 314-321 (1967); Pasadena City Bd. of Education v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424, 439 (1976). There is no doubt that the Federal District Court in Delaware had jurisdiction to issue the temporary restraining orders and preliminary and permanent injunctions. Nor were those equitable decrees challenged as "only a frivolous pretense to validity," Walker v. City of Birmingham, supra, at 315, although of course there is disagreement over whether the District Court erred in
There is nothing in the legislative history to suggest that in adopting the Freedom of Information Act to curb agency discretion to conceal information, Congress intended to require an agency to commit contempt of court in order to release documents. Indeed, Congress viewed the federal courts as the necessary protectors of the public's right to know. To construe the lawful obedience of an injunction issued by a federal district court with jurisdiction to enter such a decree as "improperly" withholding documents under the Freedom of Information Act would do violence to the common understanding of the term "improperly" and would extend the Act well beyond the intent of Congress.
We conclude that the CPSC has not "improperly" withheld the accident reports from the requesters under the Freedom of Information Act.