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Restis v. United Against Nuclear Iran (Amicus Brief)

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief urging a district court to re-examine the government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in a case between two private parties.

Published: October 29, 2014

Last year, Greek businessman Victor Restis sued United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a New York-based advocacy group, for defamation after the group accused Restis of violating sanctions on Iran by exporting oil from the country. This year, the U.S. government intervened, invoking the “state secrets privilege” — a rare move by the government. Never before has the government attempted to use the state secrets privilege to dismiss a lawsuit between private parties without providing some information about the nature of its claim.

In light of this unusual step, the Brennan Center, in conjunction with the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Constitution Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Sunlight Foundation, filed an amicus brief urging the district court to critically examine whether the government’s assertion of this privilege is valid and relevant to this case. The brief argues that the state secrets doctrine is not a sweeping justification for dismissal, and implores the court to consider less drastic alternatives.

The brief argues that the unprecedented opacity of the disclosures in this case harms the adversarial process and the public interest. Even in prior cases involving sensitive subject matter such as torture and secret weapons systems, the government has, at a minimum, provided some basis for litigants and the public to understand the government’s stake in the case. Here, by contrast, the government has refused to provide any justification to the public or security-cleared counsel. As a result, the parties are unable to meaningfully participate in determining whether the government has properly invoked the state secrets doctrine. Moreover, the government’s excessive and unprecedented secrecy harms the public interest by eroding public confidence in the government and fueling rampant speculation about the nature of the government’s motive for intervention. 

Related Links:

Read the Amicus Brief

Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Compel Additional Information Relating to the Assertion of the State Secrets Privilege

Notice of Motion to Intervene, Assert the State Secrets Privilege, and Dismiss the Complaint

Transcript of Hearing (via Lawfare)