In something of a first, the U.S. Department of Education, charged with publishing guidance on the law, intervened in a federal court suit on behalf of Ohio State University and Miami University, claiming the Ohio Supreme Court had misinterpreted the law.

The universities won in the district court and the case is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Washington Supreme Court decision is not the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has considered similar issues in recent years. In Los Angeles Police Department v. United Reporting Publishing, the Court upheld a California restriction on access to accident reports for commercial purposes, saying access was only a statutory right that could be legitimately restricted by government.

And in Reno v. Condon, the Court surprised many observers by unanimously upholding the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which requires states to prohibit disclosure of most driver's license information without specific individual consent.

Based on the Court's track record on federalism issues, many had thought the statute would be stricken on 10th Amendment grounds. But what these cases show is that, although infrequent, clashes between state access and federal prohibitions on the disclosure of state records present important unresolved issues that go to the very core of constitutional principles.

Harry Hammitt  |  Contributing Writer