In a one-line order, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to review a federal appeals court ruling that found the lawsuit could not proceed because of the possibility it might reveal national security secrets. As a result, the ruling stands, derailing an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan, the Boeing subsidiary accused of carrying out the flights under a contract with the government.
ACLU lawyers expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court's decision, and the Brennan Center for Justice urged the Obama administration to reconsider its approach to invoking the state secrets privilege in legal battles around the country.
"With today's decision, the Supreme Court has refused once again to give justice to torture victims and to restore our nation's reputation as a guardian of human rights and the rule of law," said Ben Wizner, the ACLU's litigation director for national security issues.
The Supreme Court's action also means the justices declined to jump into reviewing one of the more controversial methods used in the government's war on terrorism, which has been in the forefront with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.
Both the Obama and Bush administrations had fought hard to block the lawsuit from going forward, arguing that it could expose government secrets. The case tested the government's power to invoke the "state secrets" privilege to fend off lawsuits.A sharply divided panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 6-5 ruling last year, sided with the U.S. Justice Department's arguments, saying the case "presents an unacceptable risk of disclosure of state secrets no matter what the legal or factual theories Jeppesen would choose to advance during a defense."
The four-year legal battle stems from a case filed by five former terrorism suspects who allege they were transported to foreign countries and subjected to brutal CIA interrogation tactics. ACLU lawyers insisted the government was abusing its state secrets privilege to conceal the handling of the terrorism suspects.
Jeppesen and Boeing have refused to discuss the company's relationship with the CIA and the government's "extraordinary rendition" program, which was launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has two other major California cases to decide before it finishes up its term next month. The justices are considering a legal challenge to California's law banning the sale of violent video games to minors, and also federal court orders requiring the state to shed nearly 40,000 inmates from its overcrowded prison system.