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Judge strikes down blanket closure of immigration hearings

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Secret Courts         May 30, 2002    

Judge strikes down blanket closure of immigration hearings

  • A federal judge ruled that closure must be decided on a case-by-case basis, otherwise the public’s First Amendment right to observe and scrutinize hearings is infringed.

A federal judge in New Jersey ruled on May 29 that the government’s policy of closing all immigration hearings of those detained from the September 11 investigations was unconstitutional.

District Judge John W. Bissell found that the First Amendment right of access was infringed by a blanket closure order. He ruled that immigration courts may close hearings on a case-by-case basis, but only after specific evidence had been presented to demonstrate that closure is necessary.

The ruling came from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Jersey Law Journal and the North Jersey Media Group. The organizations argued that their First Amendment right of access to court proceedings was infringed by a memorandum that ordered all immigration courts to close all hearings of detained immigrants. The memorandum — known as the Creppy Memorandum– was issued on Sept. 21 by Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy.

Bissell’s ruling is the third ruling against the government and its secretive policies since September 11. A federal judge in Detroit ruled in favor of press access to the immigration hearings of Rabih Haddad, and a New Jersey state court ruled that the names of September 11 detainees held in New Jersey jails should be released pursuant to state law.

The government has argued that releasing the names of the detainees or permitting access to immigration proceedings would threaten national security and aid terrorists. Before the Creppy Memorandum was issued, immigration proceedings were generally open to the public.

(North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Ashcroft) AG

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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