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Corporate 'personal privacy'? Case watched for any hint of Supreme Court bias.

A lawyer for AT&T faces tough questioning at Supreme Court as he argues for 'personal privacy' protections for corporations. Critics alleging a pro-business bias in the Roberts court are tuning in.

By Staff writer / January 19, 2011

The case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, is being closely watched because some legal analysts view it as a potential indicator of a pro-business slant at the high court under Chief Justice John Roberts.

Lisa Poole/AP

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Washington

A lawyer for communications giant AT&T faced an uphill battle on Wednesday while trying to convince the US Supreme Court that “personal privacy” protections in the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to corporations as well as to individuals.

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The lawyer, Geoffrey Klineberg, urged the justices to uphold a federal appeals court decision that the release of federal documents under FOIA could harm a corporation through an invasion of “personal privacy.”

But during an hour-long argument session, Mr. Klineberg fielded what seemed an accelerating barrage of skeptical questions from the justices.

How much do you know about the US Constitution? A quiz.

“Can you give me any examples in common usage where people would refer to the personal privacy of a corporation,” Justice Antonin Scalia asked.

The law sometimes uses the term person to refer to a corporation, Klineberg said.

“I’m not talking about that,” Scalia replied. “Do you have any examples … from anywhere that anybody refers to the interests of a corporation as the ‘personal privacy’ of General Motors?”

Scalia added: “I cannot imagine somebody using the phrase like that.”

The case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, is being closely watched because some legal analysts view it as a potential indicator of a pro-business slant at the high court under Chief Justice John Roberts.

These critics see the case as a potential companion to last year’s controversial campaign finance decision holding that corporations enjoy free speech rights to spend unlimited amounts of corporate money in independent advertisements during elections.

If corporations have free speech rights, then perhaps the high court will rule they have privacy rights too, these critics said.

By the end of Wednesday’s argument that prospect seemed remote.

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