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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, representing media plaintiffs, filed suit in federal court last Wednesday challenging the attorney general’s closure of immigration hearings for Muslim aliens arrested and detained since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Chief U.S. District Judge John Bissell set a hearing date of April 5 on a request for a preliminary injunction by American Lawyer Media, the law.com affiliate that publishes the Law Journal, and North Jersey Media Group, publisher of the Herald News of West Paterson and The Record of Hackensack. The newspapers charge that in a directive issued last Sept. 21, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy, of the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, ordered immigration judges to close hearings in “special interest” cases, those in which the detainee is suspected of having a link to terrorism. The complaint cites incidents when reporters were told to leave court as hearings for such cases were convened and when court personnel denied reporters docket information. Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU-NJ, says Creppy’s directive violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to access court proceedings and is too broadly worded to further any compelling government interest in closure. The directive “does not allow any inquiry into whether closure is necessary or appropriate in any individual case,” Barocas says. Justice Department spokespeople did not return calls seeking comment. The suit, North Jersey Media Group et al. v. Ashcroft, brings to at least four the number of court cases challenging the U.S. government’s conduct in immigration proceedings against post-Sept. 11 detainees. In January, the ACLU-NJ branch sued Passaic and Hudson counties in Hudson County, N.J., seeking names of federal immigration detainees in those counties’ jails. The Justice Department won the right Feb. 26 to intervene in that case. An Arab man from Paterson, N.J., Maliek Zeidan, whose hearing was closed to reporters from the Law Journal and Herald News, is suing the Justice Department in federal court in Newark to make the hearing public. Two suits have been filed in Michigan over the closed immigration hearing of Muslim leader Rabih Haddad, one by the Michigan branch of the ACLU on behalf of The Detroit News and U.S. Rep. John Conyers and the other by the Detroit Free Press. The cases were consolidated, and a hearing will be held March 26 in Detroit.

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