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** COURT OVERTURNS DISMISSAL OF "STATE SECRETS" CASE
** CRS REPORTS ON VARIOUS TOPICS
COURT OVERTURNS DISMISSAL OF "STATE SECRETS" CASE
In an unusual move that may signal a new, more discriminating judicial
view of the state secrets privilege, a federal appeals court recently
reinstated a lawsuit which a lower court had dismissed after the
government invoked the state secrets privilege.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 1994 by former Drug Enforcement
Administration official Richard Horn who alleged that the State
Department and the Central Intelligence Agency had unlawfully
eavesdropped on his communications while he was stationed in Rangoon,
The government asserted the state secrets privilege in 2000 and moved
for dismissal of the case. The government motion was granted by the D.C.
district court in 2004.
But in a June 29, 2007 decision (that was unsealed on July 20), the D.C.
Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal. The Court did not
dispute the government's invocation of the state secrets privilege, but
concluded that there was sufficient unprivileged evidence on the record
to permit the plaintiff to argue his case.
"In many state secrets cases, a plaintiff has no prospects of evidence
to support the assertions in his complaint and this lack of evidence
requires dismissal. Here, however, Horn [the plaintiff] is not without
evidence," the Court said.
The Court presented its ruling as a straightforward application of
established principles, including fairness to the parties.
But in a sharply dissenting opinion, one conservative member of the
Court said that the decision to reinstate the lawsuit could
fundamentally alter the use of the state secrets privilege.
"The majority's reversal of the district court's decision," wrote Judge
Janice Rogers Brown, "pushes this circuit's state secrets jurisprudence
in a new and troubling direction -- one at odds with all other circuits
that have considered the issue."
The case was remanded to the district court level for further
See the unsealed Appeals Court ruling "In Re: Sealed Case," June 29,
Coincidentally, the American Bar Association (www.abanet.org) this week
adopted a resolution urging that "whenever possible," federal civil
cases should not be dismissed "based solely on the state secrets
The ABA resolution also proposed a set of legislative changes designed
"to encourage meaningful judicial review of assertions of the state
secrets privilege" and to regulate use of the privilege.
A copy of the ABA resolution, adopted August 13, and an accompanying
report elaborating on its recommendations may be found here:
CRS REPORTS ON VARIOUS TOPICS
Recent reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not
been made readily available to the public include the following.
"Capital Punishment Overview: 2006-2007 Term of the Supreme Court," July
"Globalization, Worker Insecurity, and Policy Approaches," updated July
"Executive Branch Reorganization and Management Initiatives: A Brief
Overview," updated July 10, 2007:
"Constitutional Limits on Punitive Damages Awards: An Analysis of the
Supreme Court Case Philip Morris USA v. Williams," updated July 17,
"Internet Search Engines: Copyright's 'Fair Use'" in Reproduction and
Public Display Rights," updated July 12, 2007:
"Nuclear Energy Policy," updated July 12, 2007:
"The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS),"
updated July 23, 2007:
"Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and
Other Issues," updated July 11, 2007:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
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