Supreme Court Tie Keeps Donor's Records In Play At U-M

DETROIT (AP) — An attorney seeking access to documents donated to the University of Michigan won a key decision Friday as a result of a tie at the Michigan Supreme Court.

The documents were from the late Dr. John Tanton of Petoskey, who was considered to be an influential voice in anti-immigration matters.

Eleven of the 25 boxes were to remain closed at the Bentley Library until 2035, but the Michigan appeals court in 2019 said they qualify as public records under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The Supreme Court tied, 3-3, in an appeal from the university, which means the appeals court decision will stand. The case now will return to the Court of Claims where the school still could make new arguments under the public records law to keep a lid on the documents.

Three justices said the case hadn't been developed enough for the Supreme Court to consider it.

“I would wait until we could assess whether the materials here, even if deemed public records, fall within FOIA’s personal-privacy exemption,” Justice David Viviano said.

In a dissent, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said Michigan's public records law was enacted to provide information about the workings of government.

“A private individual’s sealed, donated writings to a library do no such thing,” McCormack said.

Justice Richard Bernstein didn't participate because his brother, Mark, is on the university's governing board.