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The U.S. government asked an appeals court for an emergency stay of a lower court ruling striking down a military detention law, claiming the decision threatens to harm national security.
Justice Department lawyers today asked the federal appeals court in Manhattan to delay implementation of a Sept. 12 ruling that invalidated provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 while the court considers an appeal in the case. A group of journalists and activists challenging the law claim it may be used to imprison U.S. citizens for conduct that is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest extended a preliminary injunction against the law that she had entered in May. Forrest ruled the law violates rights guaranteed by the First, Fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“The district court order threatens irreparable harm to national security and the public interest by injecting added burdens and dangerous confusion into the conduct of military operations abroad during an active armed conflict,” the government said in papers filed with the court today.
Section 1021 of the NDAA affirmed the president’s authority to detain people under an earlier law, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those who may be held include people who “substantially supported” al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
A group including former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges sued President Barack Obama and Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, on Jan. 13, challenging the provision. The plaintiffs claim it could subject them to detention for acts including writing and advocacy that are protected by the First Amendment.
“They’re going to go to the mat to protect the right to put even U.S. citizens in military custody,” said Carl Mayer, a lawyer for Hedges and six others, responding today to the government’s request for an emergency stay. He called the case a “constitutional standoff” between the president and the judiciary.
The government denies that the plaintiffs face any danger of being captured and held by the military.
The case is Hedges v. Obama, 12-cv-00331, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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