Less than 24 hours after a judge blocked a law that gives the government the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without trial, attorneys for the Obama administration were already filing an appeal.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in New York ruled Wednesday that the law is unconstitutional after The Nation Institute senior fellow and Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges brought a lawsuit alleging his free speech rights were being violated by the very possibility of the law being enforced, even though President Barack Obama declared in a signing statement that the administration will never detain Americans without trial.
Judge Forrest, an Obama appointee, said that the language of the law was too vague and that Congress must better define “what conduct comes within its scope,” or else it could be applied to people like the plaintiff to chill free speech activity and the practice of journalism.
Congressional Republicans crafted the bill to make it much more difficult to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military prison, compelling a vote on indefinite detention powers by tying it to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a military spending bill late last year.
Thursday’s filing may come as a surprise to many, given the administration’s lengthy signing statement that insists authorizing indefinite detention of Americans “would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”
“Judge Forrest’s decision firmly rejects governmental overreach,” plaintiff attorney Bruce Afran said in a media advisory. ” We now have a judgment that the NDAA, by threatening indefinite military detention as the price of speech, violates the First Amendment and threatens core American values.”
“The federal court has denied the dangerous notion that American civilians can be taken into military custody and that the President is above the law outside of the reach of the courts,” he added. “The decision is an affirmation of the American constitution.”
By Friday morning, petition site Demand Progress said more than 60,000 people signed a form asking Obama not to appeal the ruling. “If we don’t do anything, they’ll keep fighting to defend this law!” the petition site declared.