In another case of a court exceeding its authority, a federal judge in Washington has ordered the government to grant security clearances to lawyers for a former narcotics officer who sued over alleged illegal eavesdropping by the CIA and the State Department.
The executive, not the judicial, branch of government usually decides who may view classified documents bearing on national security, and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth himself acknowledged that no previous case seemed to grant a court authority to overturn that. Still, he gave the government only 10 days to give the attorneys security clearances so they can view classified information.
It may have been easy for Judge Lamberth to issue that order, but it will be much harder for the government to comply. A security clearance is a privilege, not a right, and it can require extensive background checks. What happens if something in the attorneys' backgrounds disqualifies them from gaining clearance? Should the government give it to them anyway, or should it risk a contempt citation for not heeding an activist judge's wishes?
The Justice Department is likely to appeal the judge's outrageous order. We hope that appeal succeeds.