Gavel Grab

Ex-Judge: New Court to Approve Targeted Killings a ‘Very Bad Idea’

It is “a very bad idea” for federal judges to be asked to monitor and ultimately approve “the killer instincts of our government,” retired U.S. District Judge James Robertson wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Judge Robertson addressed an idea that has recently gained a high profile, for creation of a special secret court devoted to “independent judicial review” of targeted administration killing lists, to be carried out through drone strikes (see Gavel Grab). The strikes would be aimed at American citizens who are suspected terrorists overseas.

The judge, who also served on a secret court that reviews federal surveillance orders, said, “U.S. judges have been hard-wired against rendering ‘advisory opinions’ since 1793″ when Chief Justice John Jay answered a question posed by President George Washington. Judge Robertson continued:

“From that letter — itself an advisory opinion — has grown a complex but well-established and understood set of constraints on the federal courts: They are to decide only ‘cases’ or ‘controversies’ that are ‘justiciable’ and ‘ripe’ for decision. Federal courts rule on specific disputes between adversary parties. They do not make or approve policy; that job is reserved to Congress and the executive.”

Moreover, the judge added, “An American judge cannot do American justice” in a case that includes evidence where only one side is heard. His op-ed was entitled, “Judges shouldn’t decide about drone strikes.”

The issue received a broader treatment in a Time article headlined, “Checking Obama’s Assassination Power: A Drone Court Is Just One Way.”

“[O]pposition to specifically designated secret courts is written into the legal DNA of this country (see the Court of the Star Chamber as source of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination),” the article said.

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