Jameel Jaffer

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Jameel Jaffer
Born 1971 (age 44–45)
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Lawyer
Known for Human rights work

Jameel Jaffer is a human rights and civil liberties attorney who is deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the ACLU's Center for Democracy, which houses the ACLU’s work relating to free speech, privacy, technology, national security, and international human rights.[1][2][3][4] Since he joined the staff of the ACLU in 2002, Jaffer has litigated many leading cases relating to national security and human rights, including cases concerning surveillance, torture, rendition, and “targeted killing.”[5]

Jaffer is particularly notable for the role he played in litigating Freedom of Information Act requests that led to the release of documents concerning the torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and in CIA black sites. Among the documents released were interrogation directives signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, emails written by FBI agents who witnessed the torture of prisoners, legal memos in which the Office of Legal Counsel stated that U.S. law did not prohibit the President from authorizing torture, and autopsy reports relating to prisoners who were killed in U.S. custody.[6][7] The New York Times billed the lawsuit "one of the most successful in the history of public disclosure."[8]

In 2013, Jaffer co-led the litigation that resulted in the disclosure of one of the Obama administration's "drone memos."[9][10]

Jaffer is an Executive Editor of Just Security, a national security blog.[11]

On June 29th, 2016, Jaffer was named the founding director of the First Amendment Institute (at Columbia University), which was created to work to preserve and expand freedoms in the digital age. The institute, which will be affiliated with Columbia and involve faculty from its journalism and law schools, will seek to help lawyers navigating First Amendment issues related to new technology and support First Amendment-related research and education. And it will touch on a range of First Amendment issues, such as government surveillance, privacy rights on digital platforms and public access to government records. [12]


Jaffer grew up in Canada, and is a graduate of Upper Canada College, a private school in Toronto.[2] His university education was at Williams College, Cambridge University, and Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the law review.[3] After law school, Jaffer was a law clerk to the Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada.[7]

Legal career[edit]

Jaffer is currently the Director of the ACLU's Center for Democracy.

In 2004, Jaffer litigated a successful constitutional challenge to the USA Patriot Act, obtaining a federal court ruling that invalidated the "national security letter" provision.[13] After Congress amended the law, the federal district court invalidated the provision again in 2007.[14]

In 2006, Jaffer filed a case challenging the Bush administration's refusal to issue a visa to Tariq Ramadan, a well-known Islamic thinker.[15] The case was brought on behalf of the American Association of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and PEN American Center. A federal appeals court sided with Jaffer and his clients in 2009, finding that the exclusion of Professor Ramadan was unconstitutional.[15] After that ruling, the Obama administration reversed the exclusion of Dr. Ramadan and issued him a visa.[16]

In 2012 and 2013, Jaffer argued two successful appeals, one before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and another before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, relating to the Obama administration's refusal to release Justice Department memos concerning the "targeted killing" program.[17][18]

In 2012, Jaffer argued Clapper v. Amnesty International USA before the U.S. Supreme Court.[19] The case involved a constitutional challenge to a federal statute that gave the National Security Agency broad power to monitor international communications. The Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs 5-4, holding that they lacked "standing" to bring their suit.[20]

Along with Jimmy Wales and Lila Tretivok of the Wikimedia Foundation, Jaffer filed a lawsuit in March 2015 against the NSA challenging the agency's surveillance activities "through which the U.S. government intercepts, copies, and searches almost all international and many domestic text-based communications" on the Wikimedia platform.

Community Events[edit]

Jaffer was invited to celebrate Ramadan at the White House in 2009.[21]


  1. ^ "Jameel Jaffer". Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Iain Marlow (2009-08-30). "How Canadian lawyer unearthed U.S. torture documents". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. 
  3. ^ a b "Administration of torture". American Civil Liberties Union. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. 
  4. ^ Lindsay Fortado (2005-05-09). "Jameel Jaffer, 33: Watchdog leads charge over civil liberties". National Law Journal. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. 
  5. ^ https://www.aclu.org/blog/author/jameel-jaffer
  6. ^ Scott Shane (2009-08-29). "A.C.L.U. Lawyers Mine Documents For Truth". New York Times
  7. ^ a b Colin Freeze (2010-04-19). "Canadian emerges as voice for detainees"
  8. ^ Scott Shane (2009-08-29). "A.C.L.U. Lawyers Mine Documents For Truth". New York Times
  9. ^ Benjamin Weiser (2014-03-21). "U.S. Ordered to Release Memo in Awlaki Killing". [1]
  10. ^ Jameel Jaffer (2014-06-21). "The Drone Memo Cometh."[2]
  11. ^ http://justsecurity.org/
  12. ^ http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/jameel-jaffer-columbia-university-first-amendment-224947
  13. ^ Nat Hentoff (2004-11-09). "Cuffing Bush and the FBI"
  14. ^ Mark Hamblett (2007-09-07). "Federal Judge Rules Unconstitutional Parts of the Patriot Act". [3]
  15. ^ a b Benjamin Weiser (2009-07-17). "Court Reverses Ruling Dealing With Visa of Muslim Scholar". [4]
  16. ^ Kirk Semple (2010-04-07). "At Last Allowed, Muslim Scholar Visits". >
  17. ^ Debra Cassens Weiss (2013-03-18). "DC Circuit requires CIA to give some drone strike information to judge in ACLU lawsuit"[5]
  18. ^ Benjamin Weiser (2014-03-21). "U.S. Ordered to Release Memo in Awlaki Killing". [6]
  19. ^ http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2012/2012_11_1025
  20. ^ Adam Liptak (2013-02-26). "Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader U.S. Eavesdropping". [7]
  21. ^ Peter Baker(2009-09-01). "The White House Celebrates Ramadan"