Carlson v. United States, No. 15-2972 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Carlson, along with scholarly, journalistic, and historic organizations, sought access to grand-jury materials sealed decades ago. The materials concern an investigation into the Chicago Tribune in 1942 for a story it published revealing that the U.S. military had cracked Japanese codes. The government conceded that there are no interests favoring continued secrecy, but declined to turn over the materials, on the ground that Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure entirely eliminates the district court’s common-law supervisory authority over the grand jury and that no one has the power to release these documents except for the reasons enumerated in Rule 6(e)(3)(E). Carlson’s request is outside the scope of Rule 6(e). The Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling in favor of Carlson. The text and history of the Rules indicate that Rule 6(e)(3)(E) is permissive, not exclusive, and does not eliminate the district court’s long-standing inherent supervisory authority to make decisions as needed to ensure the proper functioning of a grand jury. While this inherent supervisory authority is limited to “preserv[ing] or enhanc[ing] the traditional functioning” of the grand jury, that includes the power to unseal grand jury materials in circumstances not addressed by Rule 6(e)(3)(E).