The federal government may continue to hold secret deportation hearings for foreign nationals as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the issue. Closed proceedings were held for hundreds of people detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Washington Post reports that the justices decided not to review a federal appeals court decision that upheld the constitutionality of a Bush administration policy ordering closed hearings for detainees who were deemed to be of “special interest” to the government’s investigation of the attacks.
The policy was challenged by a group of New Jersey newspapers that argued that “the public has a critical need to know how its government is responding to the events of September 11, and more generally how the government enforces the nation’s immigration laws.” A federal district judge in New Jersey agreed, but the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a 2 to 1 decision, reversed the lower court ruling.
The Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in another case that the closed deportation hearings violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press.
In a brief urging the Supreme Court not to consider the issue, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson said that about 766 detainees were designated of “special interest” in connection with the terrorism investigation and that 611 of them had one or more hearings that were closed to the public. He said some of the detainees were being subjected to criminal prosecutions, and that 505 of them had been deported.
Olson said there was only one remaining “special interest alien” who might be subjected to a closed earing and that the Justice Department’s policy on such hearings was “currently under review and will likely be revised to reflect the government’s practical experience dealing with these unique cases.”