Journalist Karen Blumenthal receives James Madison Award for open records activism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nov. 10, 2020

AUSTIN – The late journalist and author Karen Blumenthal, an ardent advocate for the people’s right to know who ensured public access to historic Texas records in the Roe v. Wade case, has been honored with the James Madison Award.

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas bestows the award on those who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the principles of the First Amendment and open government. 

Blumenthal spent more than two decades with The Wall Street Journal, including eight years as its Dallas bureau chief, and wrote non-fiction books for young people in the final part of her career. She died unexpectedly in May 2020. 

“She was an inspiration to writers and journalists, particularly women journalists, across the country. She’s left a legacy of tenacity and persistence that we all can emulate,” Leona Allen Ford, deputy publisher of The Dallas Morning News and an FOI Foundation board member, said in announcing the award Tuesday.

While researching her final book Jane Against the World explaining the issue of reproductive rights, Blumenthal asked for Texas’ archived case file from the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade of 1972. She expected the records from more than four decades ago would be promptly released. Instead, the state refused, even though the documents were released years ago to another author in microfilm form. The Texas Attorney General’s Office cited attorney-client privilege and work product exemptions as reasons for keeping parts of the file secret.

Blumenthal already had the previously released full microfilm version that was given to the other author, David Garrow, but she had been seeking a digitized version from the state. She set out to make sure the unredacted set of documents would forever be available in the public domain. Blumenthal paid $340 to digitize the records and then provided them to the Dallas Public Library, the SMU Law Library and the Yale Law Library.

“Karen Blumenthal always found a way to do right,” said journalist Scott McCartney, Blumenthal’s husband, in accepting the James Madison Award on her behalf.

Blumenthal believed deeply that history brings context to what’s happening today, McCartney said, noting that public records are essential in examining events of the past and present and in watching over government.

“Democracy doesn’t exist without open records,” he said. “Accountability in government matters. Transparency matters. What you do with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas matters. What Karen Blumenthal did all her professional life mattered.”

The Roe v. Wade case information Blumenthal pursued was of “historic dimension,” said attorney Paul Watler, an FOI Foundation board member who nominated Blumenthal for the foundation’s award. He praised her as a “dedicated, relentless” journalist and author. 

Blumenthal documented her public records battle with state officials in a detailed column earlier this year in The Dallas Morning News.

The James Madison Award has been presented since 1987 to attorneys, journalists, public officials and vigilant citizens. A list of past recipients can be found at http://foift.org/activities-programs/awards/james-madison-awards/. More information about Blumenthal and her research is at karenblumenthal.com.

A recording of the FOI Foundation awards program, which also honored Spirit of FOI Award winners and State Bar of Texas Gavel Award winners, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAulK5ATfs8&feature=youtu.be

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Contact:
Kelley Shannon, FOIFT executive director 
kelley.shannon@foift.org
Cell 512-914-9222