Updated 4:59 p.m.
The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal appeals court in Washington not to delay hearing a dispute over access to any government documents concerning the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. The Justice Department, representing the CIA, earlier this month asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to send the dispute back (PDF) to the trial court for additional proceedings.
The DOJ request followed the government's June 20 filing in a related Freedom of Information Act case pending in Manhattan federal district court. In the New York filing, DOJ lawyers urged a trial judge to shut down the litigation, saying, among other things, that the "requests involve highly classified information." ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said today in the D.C. Circuit that the appeals court should keep its Sept. 20 hearing date. The government's filings in New York, Jaffer said, don't affect the dispute in Washington.
"This appeal, which involves issues of extraordinary public concern, has been fully briefed, and remand would needlessly delay its resolution," Jaffer said in today's court filing (PDF).
At issue in the D.C. Circuit is the government's "Glomar" response to the ACLU request for documents. DOJ lawyers declined to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records about the use of drones. One question is whether Obama administration officials, including the president himself, have officially acknowledged the use of drones in targeted killings. Jaffer said "the only issue on appeal is whether the CIA's Glomar response is lawful given that senior government officials have repeatedly, and in some detail, discussed the drone program in press conferences, in public speeches, and in the media." The D.C. Circuit has not ruled on whether to send the case back to Washington's federal trial court, where Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in favor of the government last September. Collyer's ruling is here. The appeals court earlier agreed to expedite the case before DOJ asked the court to send the dispute back to the trial level. A remand to the trial court, Jaffer said, would "add months to this litigation for no good reason."