After the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of lower-court rulings, the Federal Reserve must release information within five days about its “emergency” bailouts of large banks and financial institutions undertaken in 2008 under the guise of saving the financial system.

The central bank attracted intense scrutiny during the economic crisis when it lent trillions of dollars to various institutions, including foreign banks, in an unprecedented transfer of wealth. And as concern intensified, several media organizations including Fox and Bloomberg sought disclosure of the bailout records using Freedom of Information Act requests.

But the Federal Reserve and a coalition of some of the biggest banks in the world fought back against disclosure for years. So after refusing to release the records, Bloomberg took the Fed to court.

The central bank argued, among other points, that the New York Fed is a private corporation with private shareholders, not a government agency subject to FOIA rules. The defendants also claimed that releasing the information would hurt the reputations of bailed-out institutions.

The Fed lost its initial case in court. It appealed and lost yet again. Finally, the central bank received a stay on the order until the case could be taken to the Supreme Court. But on March 21, the high court denied the appeal without comment, meaning the federal appeals court decision stands.

“The Federal Reserve forgot that it is the central bank for the people of the United States and not a private academy where decisions of great importance may be withheld from public scrutiny,” said Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler in a statement. Meanwhile, the coalition of big banks seeking to prevent disclosure said it was “disappointed.”

Supreme Court: Fed Must Disclose Bailout Details, 3/22/11

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