A coalition of 23 media organizations and public interest groups organized by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — including such notable news companies as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett, Knight Ridder, Hearst, ABC News, and CNN — joined forces today in an unusual effort to intervene in the U.S. Supreme Court appeal of an Algerian-born man detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The coalition members seek to become parties to the case in order to represent the interests of the public and news media in ensuring that proceedings are conducted openly, in compliance with the First Amendment.
“A free and open society cannot tolerate hiding federal court proceedings from public view,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, Reporters Committee Executive Director. “By participating in this case, the media aim to ensure that the proper balance is drawn between secrecy in the name of national security and the public’s right to know.”
The filing, known as a motion to intervene, is rare because, if granted, it would mean that the coalition members are added as actual parties to the case of M.K.B. v. Warden, now before the high court on a petition for review. Ordinarily, parties are not added to a case once it is before the Supreme Court.
But the coalition’s brief points out that unique circumstances justify media intervention: “Because of the exceptional secrecy surrounding this case, [the coalition members] were unaware of its very existence when it was being litigated in the district court, and were therefore unable to move to protect their interests by intervening there,” the coalition argues.
The case reportedly arises from the government’s detention of Mohammed K. Bellahouel, a Florida resident who allegedly had contact with three of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Bellahouel’s challenge to the legality of his incarceration was originally kept entirely off the public docket in the U.S. District Court in Miami. Later, the case was docketed, but with 63 of the 65 entries listed as “SEALED.”
On Nov. 3, the Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to accept review of the case in order to decide whether the extreme secrecy violated the First Amendment. On the same day, the justices ordered the government to respond to Bellahouel’s petition for review. Previously, the government had indicated that it did not plan to file a response.
The media and public interest coalition is represented pro bono by Thomas C. Goldstein, an experienced Supreme Court advocate based in Washington, D.C.
The motion to intervene can be found on the Reporters Committee Web site at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20040102-mkbvwarden.pdf
The amicus brief filed on Nov. 3 can be found at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20031103-mkbvwarden.pdf