The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved legislation that seeks to clarify the rules governing the disclosure of state secrets in the courtroom. The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), has touted the legislation as a response to President Bush's aggressive invocation of the state secret privilege in litigation challenging the conduct of the "war on terror." The 11-8 vote was almost entirely along party lines, with only Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) breaking ranks to vote in favor of the bill.
The state secrets privilege has been at the heart of the wiretapping cases that we have covered here at Ars. Back in 2006, the Bush administration intervened in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class action lawsuit against AT&T, arguing that the litigation could not be conducted fairly because any information about the NSA's "secret room" would be classified. The administration made the same argument in its effort to stop five state regulatory agencies from probing telco participation in the NSA programs. And the government invoked the state secrets doctrine in defending itself from a lawsuit brought by an Islamic charity that claims it was the target of an illegal wiretap.