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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

State Secrets Privilege – Should The Alleged Victim Be Compensated When the Government Chooses

Here is an interesting NLJ article on the state secrets privilege from a law professor and dean with an impressive background in both public interest litigation and academics. The law professor, Alan B. Morrison, currently is the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at the George Washington University School of Law. In short, he suggests that the price for exercising the privilege should be that the government pays for the harm caused. Here are two key paragraphs:

“The problem to date has been that the arguments have all been about whether the claims of secrecy are actually justified and who should decide that. The best way around that debate is for Congress to pass a law saying to the intelligence community, “You can keep your secrets, but you (the U.S. Treasury) must pay the claimant’s damages if you won’t allow the case to be tried in the ordinary fashion.” That’s what the law says will happen if the government wants to take my land to build a military base, and that same principle should apply in these cases as well.

Here’s how such a law might work. Cases would be filed in the usual way, and if the government contended that state secrets might have to be divulged if the case were tried, it would make whatever efforts it could to dismiss the case on nonstate secrets grounds. But if that failed, the attorney general could formally invoke the state secrets privilege. At that point, the case would be transferred to the Court of Federal Claims, which hears claims against the government that it has taken someone’s property without compensation. However, once the government invoked the state secrets defense, it would lose its right to contest its liability: The only issue remaining would be the proper amount of actual, but not punitive, damages.”

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