ACLU Says Congressional Research Service Violated First Amendment When It Fired Col. Morris Davis
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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on behalf of Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Guantánamo military commissions, who was terminated from his job at CRS because of opinion pieces he wrote about the Guantánamo military commissions system that ran in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post on November 11, 2009. The ACLU's letter argues that CRS violated the First Amendment when it fired Davis for speaking as a private citizen about matters having nothing to do with his job there, and that CRS must reinstate Davis to his position in order to avoid litigation.
"The First Amendment protects Col. Davis's right to speak and write as a private citizen about issues on which he has personal knowledge," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "Col. Davis didn't give up his right to express his opinions and first-hand knowledge about a matter of such public importance when he left the military commissions system and went to work at CRS."
In October 2007, Davis resigned from his position in the military commissions because of his belief that the system was fundamentally flawed. He became a vocal critic of the commissions, writing articles, giving speeches and testifying before Congress. In December 2008, Davis began working as the Assistant Director of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division at CRS, a department within the Library of Congress that provides experts to assist members of Congress and committee staff in the legislative process. Davis's work at CRS is not related to, and his division has no responsibilities for, anything having to do with the military commissions.
"CRS does very important work and I'm proud of what I contribute to that," said Davis. "But my service there does not preclude me from speaking about matters of great public importance about which I have personal expertise that is extremely valuable to the ongoing debate over how to prosecute terrorism suspects."
On November 11, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by Davis expressing views abut the military commissions similar to those he had expressed publicly prior to working at CRS. The Washington Post also published a letter to the editor that day written by Davis on the same subject. Both pieces were written by Davis in his personal capacity, made clear that he was writing as a private individual and former chief prosecutor of the military commissions and made no mention of CRS. He wrote the pieces on his home computer during non-work hours.
Immediately after the op-ed and the letter were published, Davis received a threatening email from his supervisor regarding the pieces and questioning Davis's ability to continue serving as Assistant Director, despite previous positive feedback about his work from the same supervisor. In meetings that followed, Davis's supervisor informed him that as a result of the pieces his employment would be terminated.
According to the ACLU's letter, the "decision to terminate Col. Davis for writing the op-ed and letter to the editor is a clear violation of Col. Davis's First Amendment and due process rights. The Supreme Court has long made clear that public employees such as Col. Davis are protected by the First Amendment when they engage in speech about matters of public concern…There can be no dispute that the subject matter of Col. Davis's speech – the military commissions and the prosecution of suspected terrorists – is a matter of immense public concern. These issues are the subject of a nationwide, highly contentious, and very public debate that has been dominating the news and our government's attention."
"The public has a great interest in hearing from Col. Davis about Guantánamo and the military commissions because of his unique expertise as the former chief prosecutor there," said Fine. "There is no reason his employment at CRS should prevent the public from hearing those views."
The full text of the ACLU's letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech/letter-library-congress-asking-reinstatement-colonel-morris-davis