May 27, 2003

May 27, 2003


NEW YORK - The Supreme Court today declined to review a government policy blocking media and public access to immigration hearings of people detained after September 11, but the American Civil Liberties Union said it saw a hopeful sign in the government's argument that it will "likely" change the policy.

"The government opposed Supreme Court review by essentially walking away from its policy, and the bottom line is that's good news," said Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, which along with the ACLU of New Jersey represents the North Jersey Media Group and the New Jersey Law Journal in their challenge to the unprecedented closure policy.

In its brief opposing Supreme Court review of the case, Gelernt noted, the government said that it was not currently conducting any more secret hearings and that its policies relating to secret hearings are under review and will "likely" be changed.

"We believe the Court should have taken the case, but the ultimate goal was to change a policy that deprives the public of essential information, and that change seems to be underway," Gelernt said.

At issue is a policy set forth in a September 21, 2001, memo from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy to all immigration judges requiring the closure of all proceedings to the public and the press, when directed by the Justice Department.

Last August a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati unanimously struck down the Creppy policy in a case originating from Detroit. In a much-quoted decision, the court declared, "Democracies die behind closed doors." Significantly, the government has said it will not seek Supreme Court review of the Detroit decision. 

Ruling in the New Jersey case two months later, a divided three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the policy.  The Court today declined to review that decision. 

Today's case is North Jersey Media Group, Inc. and New Jersey Law Journal v. John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States and Hon. Michael Creppy, Chief Immigration Judge of the United States, No. 02-1289.

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