I am on vacation, and blogging only minimally, so I missed this week’s hearing before Judge Katherine Forrest on the plaintiff’s request for a permanent injunction in Hedges. Seeing as how the argument took place in New York, I probably would have missed it anyway. There hasn’t been much press on the hearing–at least not that I’ve been able to find–but the Village Voice ran this piece. If any Lawfare readers were present and want to send in a more detailed account of the goings on, I would be delighted to post a fuller account. The Voice writes:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Torrance repeated his argument that the law signed by Obama on New Year’s Eve doesn’t actually do anything new, but rather reiterates powers already conferred by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress shortly after 9/11.
That argument didn’t persuade Forrest, and she told him so. But it also posed further complications for the administration’s case. If the challenged NDAA provisions really didn’t change anything, why was the government ready to go to the mat to defend them? Perhaps more troubling, Torrance admitted that the government doesn’t specify whether detainees are held under the NDAA provisions or under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Consequently, the government was continuing to detain people covered by the challenged provisions in spite of the court’s injunction.
Carl Mayer, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, said later that he and his colleagues were considering bringing contempt of court charges over what he called an apparent disregard for the court injunction.
Torrance judge Forrest that for her court to overturn congressional legislation on national security matters would be to overstep the role of the judiciary, but Forrest wasn’t so sure. She cited a passage by Alexander Hamilton inFederalist Papers Number 78, “which I’m quite enamored with:”
“Where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.”
Another of the administration’s arguments is that the government hasn’t so far used the law to detain journalists like Hedges, so fear that it might is unreasonable.
David Remes, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said that wasn’t the point. “The danger posed by the sword of Damocles is not that it falls, but that it can fall,” he said.
Forrest also appeared unconvinced, noting that a national election could soon install a new administration with a new set of intentions and interpretations. She quoted Chief Justice John Roberts’s ruling in a 2010 case: “The First Amendment protects against the government,” Roberts wrote. “It does not leave us at the mercy of noblesse oblige. We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the government promised to use it reasonably.”
Torrance said the law still allows room for judicial oversight, because people detained under the act can file habeas corpus petitions.
“How long does a petition take?” Forrest asked.
Torrance said he didn’t have the numbers in front of him.
“Several years, right?” Forrest prompted.
Torrance allowed that might be true, but noted that in most habeas petitions in the post-9/11 era, courts have found the detention legitimate.
Forrest closed the hearing with a promise that she had not yet made her mind up, Hedges and his lawyers said her earlier ruling on the temporary injunction and her close questioning of Torrance gave them cause for optimism.