He also ruled that Awlaki’s father, Nasser, lacked the necessary legal standing to litigate the case on his son’s behalf in a US court.
The litigation has attracted attention because it poses stark questions about the limits of constitutional protections of American citizens in national security cases.
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.”