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One Man's Quest to Unseal John Tanton's Papers

March 30, 2021 (1 min read)

Isabela Dias, Mother Jones, Mar. 30, 2021

"Ahmad first filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the University of Michigan on December 14, 2016, in order to gain access to the Tanton papers. ... On May 8, 2017, the University of Michigan denied Ahmed’s request to unseal Tanton’s papers. Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, the school argued, the sealed papers weren’t “utilized, possessed or retained in the performance of any official University function” and therefore didn’t constitute public records. Ahmad promptly appealed. Two weeks later, the appeal was also denied, based on the gift agreement between the university and Tanton that prevented the dissemination of the records. Violating the terms of the agreement, the university argued, could have a chilling effect on other “potential donors with key historical documents.” ... Ahmad then filed a lawsuit with the Michigan Court of Claims. The court dismissed his suit, but Ahmad appealed, and in the summer of 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that the sealed documents are public records and subject to FOIA laws. ... If the Supreme Court upholds the Court of Appeals decision in favor of Ahmad, the case would go back to trial courts, where the university could hypothetically request exemptions to try to keep all or some of the papers sealed. ... “All of us should at least be able to agree that white nationalism and white supremacy should have no place in our immigration policy, and as long as the Tanton network is at the table, that’s exactly what they’re bringing,” Ahmad says. “They’re driven by one thing and one thing alone: to keep America white.”"