UNITED STATES v. REYNOLDS
An airplane carrying several military personnel and several civilians crashed while conducting tests of "secret electronic equipment." The widows of the three civilians killed sued and asked for full disclosure of the Air Force's accident investigation report. The report included information pertaining to the secret electronic equipment. The Air Force refused to provide the information, saying that to do so would threaten national security. Absent the report, the District Court and Court of Appeals viewed the question of negligence in the widow's favor and ruled for the plaintiffs.
If the government invokes privilege to withhold information in civil proceedings, must the trial court view the point on which evidence is withheld in the plaintiff's favor?
No. In a 6-3 opinion by Chief Justice Fred Vinson, the court held that cause for privilege must be reasonably demonstrated. As a result, the government may withhold information for reasons of national security even when that information is vital to the plaintiff's case. On remand, the plaintiffs lost.