Richard J. Leon

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Richard J. Leon
Richard J. Leon.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Assumed office
December 31, 2016
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
February 19, 2002 – December 31, 2016
Appointed by George W. Bush
Preceded by Norma Holloway Johnson
Personal details
Born Richard J. Leon
1949 (age 67–68)
Natick, Massachusetts
Education College of the Holy Cross A.B.
Suffolk University Law School J.D.
Harvard Law School LL.M.

Richard J. Leon (born 1949) is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Early life and education[edit]

Leon was born in South Natick, Massachusetts in 1949. He received his Artium Baccalaureus degree from the College of the Holy Cross (where he was a classmate of future Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas) in 1971. He received his Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School in 1974.

Richard played varsity lacrosse at Holy Cross, where he was the starting crease attackman.[citation needed]

Legal career[edit]

Leon served as a law clerk to the justices of the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1974 to 1975 and to Thomas F. Kelleher of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1975 to 1976. Leon was an attorney for the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States Department of Justice from 1976 to 1977 and a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York working in the Civil Division from 1977 to 1978.

Leon received his Master of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1981.

Leon was an assistant professor of law at St. John's University School of Law from 1979 to 1983 and a senior trial attorney in the United States Department of Justice from 1983 to 1987. Leon served as deputy chief minority counsel on the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran of the United States House of Representatives, which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, from 1987 to 1988.

Leon was appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General and served from 1988 to 1989, when he entered private practice in Washington, D.C., first with Baker & Hostetler from 1989 to 1999 and then with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease from 1999 to 2002, when he was appointed to the district court.

Leon was a member of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships from 1990 to 1993. Leon was appointed chief minority counsel on the October Surprise Task Force of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 1992 to 1993. He served as special counsel to the House Financial Services Committee in 1994. He is currently an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Law School and the Georgetown University Law Center.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Leon was nominated to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by George W. Bush on September 10, 2001, to the seat vacated by Norma Holloway Johnson. Confirmed by the Senate on February 14, 2002, he received commission five days later. He assumed senior status on December 31, 2016.

Leon was responsible for adjudicating the habeas corpus petitions of several dozen captives held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[1][2][3] Boumediene v. Bush, which was eventually considered by the Supreme Court, was first heard by Leon. By August 28, 2008, Leon had 24 cases assigned to him.[4]

The Associated Press reported Leon hoped to resolve those cases before the presidential inauguration in 2009 and was concerned that the public and the detainees will be barred from observing the hearings: "If it can't be done, I have great concern that these hearings will be virtually or exclusively classified, closed to the public and, I might add, to the detainees."

During a hearing on October 23, 2008 Leon commented on the ambiguity of the term "enemy combatant" and criticized Congress and the Supreme Court for "We are here today, much to my dismay, I might add, to deal with a legal question that in my judgment should have been resolved a long time ago. I don't understand, I really don't, how the Supreme Court made the decision it made and left that question open... I don't understand how the Congress could let it go this long without resolving." [5]

On November 20, Judge Leon ordered five detainees released from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base due to insufficient evidence.[6][7]

In January 2010, Judge Leon preliminarily enjoined the Food and Drug Administration from blocking the importation of electronic cigarettes.[8]

In 2010 he threw out the charges in an obscenity case against a California adult director John Stagliano and stated, "I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience," he said then, calling the Justice Department’s prosecution "woefully insufficient."[9]

On November 7, 2011, Judge Leon issued a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ordering graphic images on cigarette packs. On February 29, 2012, Judge Leon's final ruling held that the graphic images & statements violated the commercial right to free speech, citing the first amendment of the constitution.

On January 2, 2013, Judge Leon ruled that a memo linking the Palestinian Authority to a suicide bombing that killed two American teenagers and one Israeli teen be returned to the PA or destroyed. The memo had been inadvertently turned over to attorneys for the families of the victims in a lawsuit over the killings. In a motion for a stay of Judge Leon's order, lawyers for the plaintiffs said if they return or destroy the memo, "this critically important evidence of murder will likely be lost forever.” [10]

On May 17, 2016, Judge Leon ruled the Washington, DC handgun carry permitting scheme unconstitutional. He struck down the District requirement that an applicant show "good reason" before a concealed carry permit would be issued.[11]

NSA metadata collection unconstitutional (2013)[edit]

On December 16, 2013, Judge Leon ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' telephony records likely violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, though he stayed enforcement of his injunction pending appeal to the D.C. Circuit.[12] Excerpts from his decision are as follows:[13]

I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen [...] the almost-Orwellian technology [...] Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic – a vibrant constantly updating picture of a person's life. [...] No court has ever recognized a special need sufficient to justify continuous, daily searches of virtually every American citizen without any particularized suspicion. The Government urges me to be the first non-FISC judge to sanction such a dragnet. [...] The Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack [...] Because of the utter lack of evidence that a terrorist act has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics – I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program [...] I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison [...] would be aghast.

Purple Line controversy[edit]

Judge Leon issued a controversial stay concerning a long delayed light rail transit project in the suburban counties Maryland surrounding the District of Columbia called the Purple Line (Maryland) that required an additional Environmental Impact Statement for the project.[14] Larry Hogan, the Governor of Maryland, cited a potential conflict of interest in Judge Leon's rulings based on his close relationship with the Columbia Country Club that is affected by the transit project's route[15]


  1. ^ "Respondents' response to Court's August 7, 2006 order" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. August 15, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2008-06-23.  mirror
  2. ^ "Lead Petitioners' Counsel in Guantanamo Habeas Cases" (PDF). Center for Constitutional Rights. January 8, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-11.  mirror
  3. ^ "Exhibit B: List Of Enemy Combatant Detainees With Pending Habeas Corpus Petitions Who Have Been Released From United States Custody" (PDF). United States Department of Justice. April 17, 2007. pp. 60–62. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-05-05``.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. ^ Apuzzo, Matt (August 28, 2008). "Judge fears secret hearings over Guantanamo Bay". Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 29, 2008. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  5. ^ "Lawyers debate 'enemy combatant'". The Boston Globe. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  6. ^ Denniston, Lyle (2008-11-20). "Judge orders five detainees freed". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  7. ^ "Glenn Greenwald". Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  8. ^ "Memorandum Opinion For Smoking Everywhere, Inc. V. U.S. Food And Drug Administration Et Al". Justia Dockets & Filings. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  9. ^ STOLBERG, SHERYL GAY. "Judge Has Record of Wrestling With Thorny Issues, and the U.S. Government". New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "US judge rules Palestinians have 'right' to cover-up terrorist bombing". 
  11. ^, The Washington Times. "Judge blocks D.C. from enforcing 'good reason' requirement for concealed carry permits". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 2016-05-19. 
  12. ^ Josh Gerstein (December 16, 2013). "Judge: NSA phone program likely unconstitutional". Politico. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Norma Holloway Johnson
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia