Military Detention Law Blocked by New York Judge

A federal judge permanently blocked enforcement of a U.S. law that opponents claim may subject them to indefinite military detention for activities including news reporting and political activism.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan today ruled that the law, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, is unconstitutional. Forrest made permanent the preliminary injunction against the law that she had ordered in May. The government is appealing her May order.

“The Constitution places affirmative limits on the power of the Executive to act, and these limits apply in times of peace as well as times of war,” Forrest wrote in a 112-page opinion today. “Heedlessly to refuse to hear constitutional challenges to the Executive’s conduct in the name of deference would be to abdicate this court’s responsibility to safeguard the rights it has sworn to uphold.”

The suit was filed Jan. 13 by a group including former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges. The plaintiffs contend that Section 1021(b) of the law allows for detention of citizens and permanent residents taken into custody in the U.S. on “suspicion of providing substantial support” to people engaged in hostilities against the U.S., such as al-Qaeda.

The plaintiffs claimed the law is vague and can be read to authorize their detention based on speech and associations that are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case is Hedges v. Obama, 12-cv-00331, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporters on this story: Bob Van Voris in Manhattan federal court at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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