Federal judge blocks indefinite detention law News
Federal judge blocks indefinite detention law
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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday permanently enjoined [opinion, PDF] a US law that allows authorities to detain certain suspects indefinitely if they are found to have aided al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.” Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) [text, PDF] affirms the authority of the president under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to detain indefinitely any “person who was a 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.” A group of seven individuals and one organization challenged the law claiming it would stifle journalists’ free speech and association rights. The government countered that the section is merely an affirmation of the AUMF and that the executive is afforded latitude in instances of national security. Judge Katherine Forrest blocked the enforcement of Section 1021 against all persons, saying the provision is “unconstitutionally overbroad” in that it “purports to encompass protected First Amendment activities.” Furthermore, the government’s failure to define vague and ambiguous terms of the provision constitutes a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Finally, the court noted that although the judicial branch must give due deference to the executive and legislative branches, the constitutional question raised by the executive branch’s enforcement of the provision implicates the court’s responsibility to address the issue.

Forrest issued an injunction against the law in May, and clarified in the following weeks that her injunction should be interpreted broadly [JURIST reports]. Lawyers for the government filed their appeal [JURIST report] with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] in August. US President Barack Obama signed the NDAA into law [JURIST report] on December 31, 2011. Upon signing, he noted [statement], “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.” Both houses of Congress reached an agreement [JURIST report] on the language of the NDAA’s most controversial sections in mid-December.