Federal Judge Jeffrey S. White began and ended today’s four-and-a-half hour hearing noting the import of a legal action against President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin in addressing the ongoing genocide in Gaza, which, plaintiffs allege, these officials have failed to prevent and/or are complicit in. The hearing had two parts: 45 minutes for the parties to address legal questions he posed, and 3 hours for witness testimony. Judge White decided not to allow people inside the courtroom for “public safety” reasons, but made an overflow room available, and a Zoom link had 1,000 people on it who viewed the proceedings taking place in Oakland, California.
White opened the hearing recounting facts the world is witnessing: a “brutal attack” on Oct. 7 killing innocent people, followed by Israel’s “likewise brutal” killing of children, “destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, schools, etc., and 45% of housing.” He continued, “defendants have supplied military” equipment and assistance, and “travel to” the region to reinforce policy of support. He affirmed that the Genocide Convention forbids complicity in a genocide. However, despite this, it is the case that, under U.S. law, courts are not permitted to decide a “political question,” as those are for another branch of government under the separation of powers. To get to a resolution on this key question, Judge White proceeded to conduct a 45-minute hearing with hard questions to both sides as to whether, from their reading of the law, the court can proceed or must dismiss the case.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers made a strong case that they are not asking the court to rule on a political question, but rather that, since the U.S. has a “duty to prevent genocide,” when President Biden makes a decision to send weapons, financial aid, and assistance to Israel, he is “choosing to ignore” his obligation under the Genocide Convention. Plaintiffs ask the court to order the defendants to abide by their obligation to prevent genocide, which under the Convention and U.S. law is a matter of law, not a political question. Katherine Gallagher, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), argued in court today: “These are clear legal duties under U.S. and international law, and we call on the court to uphold its Constitutional role to hold President Biden,” Secretaries Blinken and Austin “to legal obligations and issue an preliminary injunction to stop the flow of weapons for Israel’s genocide.”