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Context of 'May 30, 2003: Bush Administration Asks Supreme Court to Dismiss Petition to Rehear ‘Reynolds’ Case'

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As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brett Kavanaugh, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida file a request with the Supreme Court, asking it to reconsider its landmark 1953 case, US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953). The lawyers are representing several family members who lost fathers (and, in one case, a husband) in the airplane crash that led to the original case (see October 6, 1948). The lawyers note that the government’s original claim that the accident reports could not be released due to the inclusion of “military secrets” (see July 26, 1950) is false, as the accident reports have been declassified and examined for such secrets (see February 2000). “Indeed,” the lawyers write, “they are no more than accounts of a flight that, due to the Air Force’s negligence, went tragically awry. In telling the Court otherwise, the Air Force lied. In reliance upon that lie, the Court deprived the widows [the three original plaintiffs] of their judgments. It is for this Court, through issuance of a writ of error coram nobis and in exercise of its inherent power to remedy fraud, to put things right… United States v. Reynolds stands as a classic ‘fraud on the court,’ one that is most remarkable because it succeeded in tainting a decision of our nation’s highest tribunal.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 249-251] On July 26, 2002, one of the plaintiffs, Judy Palya Loether, wrote in an e-mail to Brown: ”US v Reynolds has come to be a landmark case that is used by the government when it claims that documents cannot be turned over to the courts because of national security. Yet this very case is now proven, in my mind, to be based on a lie that did injury to 3 widows and 5 little children (see February 2000)… It allowed the government an area of no checks and balances (see December 11, 1951). How many times has the government used this decision, not to protect national security, but for its own purposes?” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: Judy Palya Loether, Jeff Almeida, US Supreme Court, US Department of the Air Force, Wilson Brown

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Solicitor General Theodore Olson submits a response to the request that the Supreme Court reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds (see February 26, 2003). Olson argues that once a decision has been made, it should be respected—“the law favors finality,” he writes. More surprisingly to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, Olson argues that there was no fraud perpetuated in the original case, a position hard to defend in the face of the declassified accident reports that were the heart of that case (see February 2000 and February 26, 2003). The accident reports never contained military secrets or secret information of any kind, a claim that the Court’s 1953 decision hinged on, but Olson argues that because of the wording of the claims—releasing the reports to the original plaintiffs “might lead to disclosure” of classified information—then the old claims of protecting state secrets are still technically valid (see March 9, 1953). Olson echoes the author of the original Supreme Court opinion, Fred Vinson, by reminding the Court that “[t]he claim of privilege in this case was made in 1950, at a time in the nation’s history—during the twilight of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War—when the country, and especially the military, was uniquely sensitive to need for ‘vigorous preparation for national defense.‘… The allegations of fraud made by the petition in this case… must be viewed in that light.” The lawyer for the plaintiffs in the petition, Wilson Brown, is both angered and impressed by what he calls Olson’s “remarkable obfuscation.” By hiding behind the vague wording of the original claims of state secrets, Olson is implying that this case must turn on factual issues—and therefore should be heard in a lower court, not the Supreme Court. Brown, in his response co-written by colleague Jeff Almeida, calls Olson’s arguments “disingenuous” and insists that the plaintiffs’ original case “had been vitiated through fraud.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 261-264]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, Bush administration (43), Jeff Almeida, US Supreme Court, Wilson Brown, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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