Project Belfast: Judge Young Denies Motion To Quash

We have been closely following the Boston College Project Belfast case. If you haven’t been following, this is the case in which the government, at the request of the UK authorities, issued a subpoena to Boston College’s Project Belfast for oral histories that BC researchers took from participants in the Northern Ireland conflict. The researchers assured the interviewees that their stories would be kept confidential. The government’s subpoena tests the validity, or maybe the wisdom, of that promise.

On Friday, Judge William G. Young denied BC’s motion to quash the subpoena. The main opponents of the subpoena, Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, two of the BC researchers, read the decision as a clear defeat for oral historians, but I say, “Not so fast!” Judge Young held that the subpoenas require heightened scrutiny because they raise First Amendment concerns, and he did not require BC to turn the materials over to government, but only to turn the materials over to him for a review in camera. We don’t yet know how the judge will come down on the merits, and the fact that he was willing to give heightened considerations to BC’s arguments, after the Judith Miller case, should give Moloney and McIntyre some comfort. Whichever side wins in the district court, it seems highly likely the First Circuit will weigh in.

Judge Young did reject Moloney’s and McIntyre’s motion for leave to intervene, as I predicted he would, though he did so on the simplest basis possible: Boston College more than adequately represented their interests in the case. He did, however, note the point I had been pressing: under the MLAT, Moloney and McIntyre have no right to challenge the Attorney General’s decision to accept the UK government’s request for assistance.

I’ll have a more detailed analysis of the decision later this week. For now, I have just one observation, aimed at Judge Young: the plural of “subpoena” is “subpoenas”, not “subpoenae”. “Subpoena” is not a Latin word. It’s a law Latin mashup of two of the key words that used to appear in the Court of Chancery’s process—“sub poena”, or “under penalty.” “Subpoenae” is a hypercorrection that should be avoided.

4 responses to “Project Belfast: Judge Young Denies Motion To Quash”

  1. Chris Bray

    A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education today says that BC is pleased with the decision and won’t appeal, so the First Circuit may not have a chance to weigh in. The only other plausible possibility is that Moloney and McIntyre appeal, but the appellate court would probably dispose of that appeal without reaching the more interesting questions.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris! BC’s stance is not surprising, because BC first proposed the notion of an in camera review. But BC could still appeal an order made after the in camera review requiring it to turn the documents over to the government. I think Moloney and McIntyre would face very steep hurdles in an appeal from the denial of their motion for leave to intervene.

  2. […] The government’s subpoena tests the validity, or maybe the wisdom, of that promise.In his prior order, Judge Young ordered BC to produce the oral histories to the court for an in camera inspection. On […]

  3. […] issue a subpoena to Boston College on behalf of the United Kingdom. Recall that Judge Young earlier denied the pair’s motion for leave to intervene. They claimed then, and they claim now, that the […]

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