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Federal appeals court rules plaintiffs lack standing to challenge anti-terrorism law

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that plaintiffs who were challenging an anti-terrorism law on grounds that it could stifle freedom of the press lacked standing to challenge the law, but noted that there are parts of the law that should be reviewed. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) [text, PDF] affirms the president's authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text] to detain indefinitely any person who has been "part of or substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces." The court ruled that the plaintiffs—seven individuals, some US citizens and some non-US citizens, and one organization—lacked standing because they could not show personal danger of being affected by the law. It concluded that the law "has no bearing on the government's authority to detain the American citizen plaintiffs" and that the non-US citizens failed to "establish a sufficient basis to fear detention under the statute." The court did, however, note that the plaintiffs "raise(d) a number of important and difficult questions," leaving open the question of whether the lawsuit would succeed on its merits if it is brought later by plaintiffs with standing.

This appeal was brought by the US government defendants after a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] permanently enjoined [JURIST report] the law in September. That court had issued an injunction against the law months earlier and later clarified that the injunction should be interpreted broadly [JURIST reports]. US President Barack Obama [official website] signed the NDAA into law [JURIST report] in December 2011 despite criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website], which released a statement [text] the day before it was signed saying that the law was dangerous due to its breadth. The bill had been unanimously approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] after some controversy over many of its key provisions.

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