A federal judge has ruled unconstitutional a controversial provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that many argue would allow the federal government to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial if suspected of terrorism or association with terrorists and issued a permanent injunction against its use.
The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, hands a significant victory to the plaintiffs, which include Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges and Daniel Ellsburg, the leaker of the Pentagon papers on the Vietnam War, as well as civil liberties activists who have fought hard against the provision passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. The issue particularly resonated with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and his supporters during his presidential run this year.
The ruling blocks enforcement of the provision in the law authorizing military detention if someone is determined to have “substantially supported” the Taliban, al Qaeda or “associated forces.”
The government argued that the court should defer to the executive and legislative branches on the matters of national security, and that such phrases as “associated forces” and “substantially supported” were not overly vague.
“The Court is mindful of the extraordinary importance of the Government’s efforts to safeguard the country from terrorism,” Ms. Forrest wrote in a 112-page opinion. “Nevertheless, 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. … 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.”
Ms. Forrest, who was nominated for her post by Mr. Obama, had issued a preliminary injunction of the law in May.