Critics question whether the government can order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process, based entirely on the government’s assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization. They also question how it is that the government is required to obtain court approval before conducting electronic surveillance of an American citizen overseas, yet judicial oversight is inappropriate when the government identifies that same citizen for targeted killing.
Judge Bates did not confront those central questions in his dismissal order, throwing the case out on procedural grounds. But he acknowledged that questions remain.
“The court recognizes the somewhat unsettling nature of its conclusion – that there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable,” Bates wrote in his 83-page decision. “But this case squarely presents such a circumstance.”
He added that the political question doctrine “does not contain any ‘carve-out’ cases involving the constitutional rights of US citizens.”
“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has the unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a written statement. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution or more dangerous to American liberty.”