Supreme Court rules against claim of government stonewalling
By The Associated Press,
WASHINGTON ? The Supreme Court ruled against the American widow of a Guatemalan leftist rebel yesterday, holding unanimously that she cannot sue former Clinton administration officials for allegedly misleading her about her husband’s fate.
Jennifer Harbury did not prove that her constitutional access to the courts was denied when she met with government stonewalling, the court ruled.
The right to sue in court has been interpreted as part of the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as stated in the petition clause of the First Amendment.
"Harbury’s complaint did not come even close to stating a constitutional claim for denial of access," Justice David H. Souter wrote for himself and seven colleagues.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to agree with the outcome, but said he found even less grounds for Harbury’s claim than the rest of the court.
Someone’s right to go to court does not mean the government must "disclose matters concerning national security or … provide information in response to informal requests," Thomas wrote.
The ruling was a victory for former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and others contacted by Harbury in the months and years after her husband disappeared in Guatemala.
The Bush administration backed Christopher, former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and five other former officials who appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Harbury, a lawyer and human rights activist, claims the United States is complicit in the death of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who has not been seen since 1992.
U.S. officials knew Bamaca was captured alive and that he was being held by the Guatemalan army, she claims. Further, she claims, the United States knew Bamaca was being tortured, and may have hoped to benefit from some of the information he could provide.
Yet U.S. officials stonewalled or misled her for months, Harbury claims, denying her constitutional right to go to court. Had she known the truth, she might have gotten an American court to somehow intervene, Harbury argued.
The case is Christopher v. Harbury.
High court hears case accusing government of lying
Analysis Attorneys argue routine communication between officials, public would be chilled if justices allow lawsuit brought by Guatemalan rebel’s widow to proceed. 03.19.02
High court to decide if government officials can be punished for lying to public
Analysis Guatemalan guerilla leader’s American widow claims misleading information deprived her of right of access to the courts. 12.17.01
2001-2002 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of the 2001-2002 U.S. Supreme Court term. 11.01.01