Rejecting Government Secrecy, Court Orders Open Immigration Hearings in Post-Sept. 11 Challenge

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
April 4, 2002 12:00 am

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DETROIT–Saying that government secrecy “”only breeds suspicion,”” a federal district judge has ruled that the government violated the constitution when it blocked public access to immigration hearings.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the challenge, hailed the ruling as a signal that the courts are not willing to merely rubber-stamp government policies in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“”This ruling sends a clear message that the role of the courts is more, not less, important in the aftermath of September 11,”” said Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU who argued the case here on March 26.

The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 29 in federal district court by the national and state offices of the ACLU on behalf of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the Detroit News, and the Metro Times, an alternative weekly. They were among hundreds turned away from three deportation hearings in the case of Rabih Haddad, a Muslim community leader from Ann Arbor who co-founded an Islamic charity suspected of supporting terrorist activities.

At issue was 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.

In rejecting the policy, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds said, “”Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the Government’s actions, as secrecy only breeds suspicion as to why the Government is proceeding against Haddad and aliens like him.”” The judge’s opinion is online at

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, said the ruling was particularly welcome given the large Arab community in the Detroit area. “”By upholding the principle of openness in judicial proceedings, Judge Edmunds has struck a blow against the Bush Administration’s ill-conceived policy of holding proceedings behind closed doors,”” she said.

The ACLU has also challenged the closed hearing policy in New Jersey, in a lawsuit brought on behalf of local news outlets. A hearing in that case is scheduled for April 22.

In two separate state and federal cases also related to the government’s post-Sept. 11 policies, the ACLU is seeking basic information about the hundreds of people who have been arrested and detained since Sept. 11.

In the state case, a New Jersey judge ruled last week that under state law, the government must release the names of hundreds of detainees in New Jersey jails. The federal government, which intervened in the case, has indicated that it will appeal. See news release at /node/9235

In the federal case, the national ACLU, along with 16 other organizations, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in the District of Columbia on December 5, 2001. Legal briefs in that case are due on April 15 and an argument in the case is expected to be scheduled soon afterward. See

Today’s case is Detroit News, Inc., et al v. Ashcroft et al., filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.

The legal complaint is online at

The memorandum from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy is available in .pdf format at

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