Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

'National security' again prompts high court ruling

The US Supreme Court, which last week deferred to Congress on the all-male military draft, this week bowed to the executive in revoking a citizen's passport.

In both cases the high court sent a clear signal that in matters of national security, it is giving the government a broad pathway.

About these ads

This week's ruling, announced June 29, upheld the State Department's action in stripping Philip Agee, a harsh critic of American intelligence-gathering practices, of his passport. Mr. Agee had spent 11 years with the Central Intelligence Agency but later became the CIA's bitter opponent.

The former intelligence officer announced in 1974 that he would expose the CIA's undercover agents and try to "drive them out of the countries where they are operating."

His campaign has been blamed for harming at least two Americans abroad. Only two days after Agee named Richard Kinsman as the top CIA official in Jamaica, Kinsman's house was strafed with gunfire. The next year Richard Welch was killed in Greece after an English-language paper said he was an American agent.

Agee, who lives in Hamburg, West Germany, traveled widely gathering intelligence data for his crusade against the CIA. In 1979 Secretary of State Cyrus Vance revoked Agee's passport notifying him that he had "caused serious damage to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, writing for the 7-to-2 majority, dismissed Agee's claims that he had been denied his constitutional rights. The freedom to travel abroad is "subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations," he wrote.

Charles Sims, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented Agee , said that the "breadth of authority that the court seemed to grant is extraordinary and deeply disturbing." Under the ruling, he said, "it is not at all clear that the administration couldn't have withheld passports of American newsmen in Vietnam" who gave unfavorable coverage.

In his dissent Justice William J. Brennan Jr. saw a similar danger. Conceding that Agee is "hardly a model representative of our nation," Brennan said that the ruling could be extended to "citizens who may merely disagree with government foreign policy and express their views."

About these ads

"I suspect that this case is a prime example of the adage that 'bad facts make bad law,'" Brennan said.

In giving the executive branch leeway in foreign policy and security, the Supreme Court took a position similar to that on June 25 when it upheld the all-male draft registration on the grounds that Congress deserves special deference in military matters.

In other action June 29 the Supreme Court:

* Ruled 6 to 3 that police do not have to give a "rigid" set of warnings when telling suspects that they have the right to remain silent. In an unsigned opinion, the majority upheld a murder conviction against a California juvenile. The three dissenters said that the police had erred because they failed to tell the juvenile that he had a right to a free attorney.

* Opened the door for three more cases seeking damages from former President Richard M. Nixon for illegally wiretapping telephones. A former security official already had won his Supreme Court case making the ex- President personally liable for wiretaps. The three additional suits involve a New York Times reporter, an antiwar group, and the Jewish Defense League.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.