Knight Institute v. CDC

Knight Institute v. CDC

A FOIA lawsuit seeking policies restricting CDC employees' speech

On April 2, 2020, the Knight Institute filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concerning White House and CDC policies restricting the ability of CDC employees to speak to the press and the public, including about the coronavirus pandemic.

According to press reports, the White House began requiring CDC experts to coordinate with the Office of Vice President Mike Pence before speaking with members of the press or public about the pandemic. This policy was put into place after public health officials publicly contradicted the administration’s messaging, which has included inaccurate and misleading information. In addition, the CDC has imposed its own restrictions on the ability of its employees to speak publicly in the past. To the extent that these policies prevent CDC employees from speaking out as private citizens, they raise serious First Amendment concerns.

On March 19, 2020, the Knight Institute submitted a FOIA request for records related to these CDC and White House policies. The Institute filed this lawsuit to expedite and enforce the request. The agency subsequently produced certain records but refused to produce part or all of others. The Knight Institute challenged the CDC’s withholdings and the adequacy of its search, and on September 17, 2021, the district court ordered the CDC to release in full or in part the withheld documents and ordered the agency to conduct a new search. 

Status: On September 9, 2022, the district court rejected the CDC’s new search proposal and ordered the parties to meet-and-confer about the scope of a revised search.

Case Information: Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. CDC, No. 1:20-cv-2761 (S.D.N.Y.).

Press Statements


Reading Room

The CDC's Employee Speech Policies

Documents released in our FOIA lawsuit for the CDC's policies on employee speech

Legal Filings

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