Thursday, April 21, 2005
DC Appellate Court plays "I've Got a Secret" (updated)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced that today's 30-minute argument in the case of Sibel Edmonds, a Middle Eastern language specialist fired in 2002, will be conducted behind closed doors. The court gave no reason for its decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed an emergency motion to open the hearing. Their press release asserts—
"There is no plausible reason why members of the public and the press cannot be present at this hearing, especially since the written arguments of the parties are entirely on the public record," said Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. "The rule of law does not evaporate because an appeal involves national security information."
In its motion, the ACLU noted that appellate arguments are historically open to the public as a matter of law, and that federal circuits have rejected efforts to close them, even in cases involving national security. When the United States asked the Supreme Court to close part of the oral argument in the Pentagon Papers case -- a case that involved classified information of the greatest sensitivity-that motion was denied. Likewise, in an appeal in the ongoing prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, an alleged conspirator in the September 11th terrorist plot, the court rejected the government's move to close the entire hearing.
The ACLU said that the court's decision does not appear to be based on state secrets because individuals allowed in the courtroom, including Edmonds' lead attorney, do not have security clearance in this case to be present during discussions involving classified information. The ACLU also said that, in this case, the government has not even moved for a closed oral argument.
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Daily News, CNN, Reuters America, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and several other media organizations also filed an emergency motion appealing the court's decision.
The Court of Appeals rejected the motion to open the hearing to the public, and proceeded with the case this morning.
James Ridgeway writes in the Village Voice—
No one thought the three-judge appeals court panel would be especially sympathetic to the Edmonds case. It consists of Douglas Ginsburg, who was once nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Reagan. He withdrew after it was revealed he had smoked pot as a college student; he later joined the appeals court. Another member, David Sentelle, was chair of the three-judge panel that appointed Ken Starr to be the special prosecutor investigating Clinton. Karen LeCraft Henderson was appointed a federal judge during the Reagan period, then put on the appeals court by the elder President Bush.
A fine triumvirate indeed.
If you're not familiar with the Sibel Edmonds case, Ridgeway provides a good summary.