WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will not review government anti-terrorism policies that allowed secret deportation hearings for hundreds of foreigners swept up after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The court declined to hear an appeal from New Jersey newspapers that sought information about people detained in conjunction with antiterrorism investigations.
At issue was a change in policy ordered immediately after the terror attacks in September 2001. The government ordered all immigration hearings closed if the foreigner was a "special interest" case. The government alone can decide if a case is of special interest to its war on terrorism.
"The press and the public have an overwhelming interest in knowing how, and how fairly, its government uses the power of detention and deportation," lawyers for the newspapers argued to the court.
"That is especially true at this moment, when the government itself has expressly drawn a link between deportation proceedings and the war on terrorism, and has frequently cited the number of non-citizens it has detained as evidence of the investigation's progress," they argued.
Many of the immigrants were picked up in New York and New Jersey.
Immigration hearings are generally open, and a federal judge ruled that the government should only be able to close them if individual circumstances warranted that. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the government policy.
In a separate case testing the same policy, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the other way.
"An individual's liberty is at stake in a deportation hearing," the newspapers' lawyers wrote. "Yet the government nonetheless claims the power to hold these proceedings beyond public scrutiny, without providing any particularized showing that secrecy is necessary."
The Bush administration's top Supreme Court lawyer urged the court to stay out of the case.
"There is no First Amendment right of public access to executive branch proceedings in general or to removal proceedings involving special interest aliens in particular," Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued in a court filing.
Moreover, most of the deportation hearings in question are already complete, Olson said.
Of 766 detainees designated as special interest, 505 have been deported, Olson said.
The Bush administration defended the policy of closed hearings as a security precaution. Public disclosure of information about how and why some foreigners were picked up would give clues about what the government knows about terrorist cells or plots - and what it doesn't know, Olson wrote.
The case is North Jersey Media Group v. Ashcroft, 02-1289.
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.