History and Historiography

RIP Mark Schlefer, the Man Who Made FOIA Happen

By C.J. Ciaramella, Reason

Mark Schlefer, who died in November at age 98 in Vermont, lived a full life that included 36 combat missions on a bomber crew in World War II and starting a fund to provide tuition assistance for minority children at D.C.-area private schools. But he will be best remembered for helping draft the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a landmark federal law that opened up government records to the public.

In the early 1960s, Schlefer was working as a maritime lawyer on behalf of a shipping company that had been denied tariff documentation by the Federal Maritime Commission to stop at the Mariana Islands. When Schlefer asked for a copy of the legal opinion justifying the decision, he was told it was confidential.

Schlefer couldn’t believe that the government’s interpretation of the law his client was expected to follow was secret, but he soon learned that he wasn’t the only one getting stonewalled. When he brought his problem to the American Bar Association, he learned that two other members of the body were already working with Rep. John Moss (D–Calif.) to draft a transparency bill.

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