NEW YORK--The American Civil Liberties Union said today it was disappointed by a federal appeals court ruling that immigration hearings involving people detained after Sept. 11 may be closed by the government without the input of the court.
""We continue to believe that secret hearings are not consistent with our constitutional system and run counter to the most basic principles of fairness,"" said Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, which along with the ACLU of New Jersey represented a group of New Jersey newspapers in their challenge to the unprecedented closure policy.
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.
Today's decision only applies to immigration hearings in the Third Circuit's jurisdiction -- New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the Virgin Islands. The ACLU has also challenged the government's secrecy rules in the case of an immigrant from Detroit.
In the Detroit case, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last month unanimously struck down the Creppy policy, saying, in a much-quoted decision, that ""Democracies die behind closed doors.""
Gelernt said his clients are considering their options, which include a request for review by the full court of the Third Circuit or an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The government has not yet announced whether it will appeal the Sixth Circuit decision.
The Third Circuit's decision is online at http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/recentop/week/022524.pdf
The Sixth Circuit's decision is online at http://pacer.ca6.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=02a0291p.06
The ACLU's Third Circuit brief is online at /cpredirect/11697?SubsiteID=34