The Bush Administration's use of the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit brought by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds will be challenged at an appellate court hearing in Washington, DC this week.
The state secrets privilege, among the most powerful instruments of official secrecy, may be invoked to prevent disclosure "of any information that, if disclosed, would adversely affect national security," as described in a 1983 court decision.
Last year, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the privilege in response to Ms. Edmonds' lawsuit, resulting in its dismissal. Ms. Edmonds, represented by the ACLU, is appealing to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reinstate her case.
In advance of oral arguments on April 21, the ACLU will hold a press briefing on April 20 to discuss the issues raised by the case. (Read PDF attached at the end of the article)
Coincidentally, the state secrets privilege is the subject of an extended analysis in the latest issue of Political Science Quarterly.
In a valuable addition to the literature, William G. Weaver and Robert M. Pallitto explore the murky origins of the privilege, its uses and abuses.
"Use of the state secrets privilege in courts has grown significantly over the last twenty-five years," they note. And with only four technical exceptions, the assertion of the privilege has consistently been accepted by the courts.
"Other than the scarce exception, the privilege is invariably fatal to efforts to gain access to covered documents. It is hardly surprising that such an effective tool would tempt presidents to use it with increasing frequency and in a variety of circumstances," the authors write.
"State Secrets and Executive Power" by William G. Weaver and Robert M. Pallitto, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 120, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 85-112, is not freely available online. But a copy may be purchased through the PSQ web site