In the Name of National Security

09.05.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A landmark 1953 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which affirmed the government’s use of the “state secrets” privilege to withhold information is the focus of a new book called “In the Name of National Security” by constitutional scholar Louis Fisher.

The 1953 case, United States v. Reynolds, revolved around a request by three widows for access to an accident report about a military plane crash in which their husbands died in 1948. The government refused to release the requested report.

Confronted by this dispute, Fisher writes, the Supreme Court had at least two valid options. It could have ruled in favor of the widows, granting their claims for damages in full, as lower courts had done. Or it could have subjected the disputed document to in camera review to determine whether withholding was justified on security grounds.

But the Court did neither. Instead, it upheld the government’s denial of the document without bothering to review it, establishing an unfortunate precedent that would resound throughout the coming decades up to the present day.

Fisher traces the fateful Reynolds case from its inception throughout the litigation process to its final resolution. And he considers the ramifications of this frequently cited case for current national security policy.

Richly detailed, the new book combines legal scholarship, critical analysis, and even some “Law and Order”-style suspense.

See “In the Name of National Security: Unchecked Presidential Power and the Reynolds Case” by Louis Fisher, University Press of Kansas, September 2006.

I will introduce Louis Fisher at a September 11 event at the Library of Congress, where he will discuss the book and sign copies. Come on by.