Richard J. Leon

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Richard J. Leon
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 byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byNorma Holloway Johnson
Succeeded byTrevor N. McFadden
Personal details
Born (1949-12-03) December 3, 1949 (age 74)
Natick, Massachusetts, U.S.
EducationCollege of the Holy Cross (BA)
Suffolk University (JD)
Harvard University (LLM)

Richard J. Leon (born December 3, 1949) is an American jurist who serves as 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 is the son of Silvano B. Leon and Rita M. Leon, née O'Rorke.[1] His paternal grandparents were immigrants from Portugal who settled in Framingham, Massachusetts.[2]

Leon received his Bachelor of Arts degree from College of the Holy Cross in 1971, where he played varsity lacrosse[3] and was a classmate of future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He received his Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Suffolk University Law School in 1974.

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.[4]

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 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 his judicial commission five days later. He assumed senior status on December 31, 2016.

Guantanamo Bay[edit]

Leon was responsible for adjudicating the habeas corpus petitions of several dozen captives held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

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."[9]

During a hearing on October 23, 2008, Leon commented on the ambiguity of the term "enemy combatant" and criticized Congress and the Supreme Court: "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."[10] On November 20, Leon ordered five detainees released from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base due to insufficient evidence.[11][12]

In December 2008, Leon denied Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alawi's habeas corpus petition, finding the enemy combatant's detention was lawful under the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001.[13][14] In February 2017, Leon denied another habeas corpus petition from al Alawi, rejecting the detainee's claim that the war's hostilities had ceased.[15][16]

NSA metadata collection unconstitutional[edit]

On December 16, 2013, 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.[17] Excerpts from his decision are as follows:[18]

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.

Other notable cases[edit]

In January 2010, Leon preliminarily enjoined the Food and Drug Administration from blocking the importation of electronic cigarettes.[19]

In 2010 he threw out the charges in an obscenity case against director John Stagliano: "I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience", calling the Justice Department's prosecution "woefully insufficient".[20]

In 2011, he dismissed former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt as an expert witness, after Pitt while testifying in a deposition as an expert witness for securities class action plaintiffs suing Fannie Mae, refused to answer any more questions and walked out of his deposition.[21][22][23][24]

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

On September 1, 2011, Leon approved Assistant Attorney General Christine A. Varney's agreement allowing the acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast.[25][26]

On January 2, 2013, Leon ruled that a memo linking the Palestinian Authority (PA) 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 Leon's order, lawyers for the plaintiffs said if they returned or destroyed the memo, "this critically important evidence of murder will likely be lost forever."[27]

On May 17, 2016, Leon ruled that limits imposed by Washington, D.C., on permits to carry handguns were unconstitutional. He struck down the District requirement that an applicant show "good reason" before a concealed carry permit would be issued.[28]

In August 2016 Leon issued a controversial stay of the Purple Line, a long-delayed light rail transit project in the D.C. suburbs, insisting that the project needed another Environmental Impact Statement.[29] Maryland Governor Larry Hogan noted Leon's close relationship with the Columbia Country Club, a prominent opponent of the project. Leon's ruling was later overruled.[30]

On January 4, 2018, Leon denied a request by Fusion GPS to block the House Intelligence Committee from demanding bank records of 70 of the private investigative firm's transactions with law firms, journalists and contractors, ruling that the request "did not violate the company's First Amendment rights" to political speech and association.[31]

On June 12, 2018, Leon rejected all of Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim's claims and refused to block the $85.4 billion merger of AT&T and Time Warner.[32]

On November 29, 2018, Leon raised concerns surrounding the recent close of a $68 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna Inc. after learning CVS closed its acquisition before obtaining court approval of an antitrust settlement the companies reached with the government. In expressing skepticism over the merger, Leon cited opposition from the American Medical Association (AMA), which previously warned that the deal would lead to higher premium and out-of-pocket costs for patients purchasing drugs, as well as reduce the quality of health insurance. Leon chided the companies and the Justice Department for treating him like a “rubber stamp," complaining he was “being kept in the dark” about the closing of the merger.[33]

On February 15, 2019, Leon dismissed a lawsuit brought by the North American Butterfly Association against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking to prevent the building of a border wall through its National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wildlife preserve in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He said the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures "offers little refuge for unenclosed land near one of the country’s external borders" and that environmental review had been properly waived by the DHS.[34]

On July 19, 2019, Leon upheld the Trump administration's health insurance expansion that allowed companies to offer additional plans that do not meet the coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Leon rejected the claim by the Association for Community Affiliated Plans that the move to authorize short-term coverage plans was a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, and granted summary judgement to the government. The insurance companies plan to appeal.[35]

In November 2019 Leon ruled that President Barack Obama's proclamation that expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon violated the Oregon and California Railroad and Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands Act of 1937.[36] In that case, American Forest Resource Council v. Hammond, Leon also held that the Bureau of Land Management had wrongly restricted commercial timber harvesting on the O&C Lands under the Northwest Forest Plan. Leon's decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in July 2023.[37]

On December 30, 2019, the subject dismissed Charles M. Kupperman v United States House of Representatives, et al., a case, briefly, at the center of both the Trump–Ukraine scandal and the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump which became moot due to the subpoenas being withdrawn.[38][39]

On March 29, 2022, Leon dismissed the Electronic Frontier Foundation's constitutional challenge against the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) in the case Woodhull Freedom Foundation, et al. v. U.S.; Leon upheld the constitutionality of the law and rejected the plaintiffs' arguments.[40] His ruling was affirmed by Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on July 07, 2023 following the Electronic Frontier Foundation's appeal. [41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rita M. Leon".
  2. ^ "Armando Leon", United States census, 1940; Framingham, MA;.
  3. ^ "Battle Hymn of a Federal Trial Judge". College of the Holy Cross. Archived from the original on June 10, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  4. ^ "Leon, Richard J." Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  5. ^ "Respondents' response to Court's August 7, 2006 order" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. August 15, 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 2, 2008. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  6. ^ "Lead Petitioners' Counsel in Guantanamo Habeas Cases" (PDF). Center for Constitutional Rights. January 8, 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 27, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2008.
  7. ^ "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 (PDF) from the original on March 27, 2009. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  8. ^ Apuzzo, Matt (August 28, 2008). "Judge fears secret hearings over Guantanamo Bay". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 1, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  9. ^ Apuzzo, Matt (August 28, 2008). "US judge voices fear public will be shut out of detainee trials". Associated Press.
  10. ^ "Lawyers debate 'enemy combatant'". The Boston Globe. October 24, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  11. ^ Denniston, Lyle (November 20, 2008). "Judge orders five detainees freed". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  12. ^ "Glenn Greenwald". December 11, 2007. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  13. ^ Note, Recent Case: D.C. Circuit Holds the Government’s Authority Has Not Unraveled, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1542 (2019).
  14. ^ Al-Alwi v. Bush, 593 F. Supp. 2d 24 (D.D.C. 2008).
  15. ^ Al-Alwi v. Trump, 236 F. Supp. 3d 417 (D.D.C. 2017).
  16. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Habeas Case Brought by Guantánamo Bay Detainee Challenging His Continuing Detention". American Journal of International Law. 113 (4): 849–855. October 18, 2019. doi:10.1017/ajil.2019.64.
  17. ^ Josh Gerstein (December 16, 2013). "Judge: NSA phone program likely unconstitutional". Politico. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  18. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ "Memorandum Opinion For Smoking Everywhere, Inc. V. U.S. Food And Drug Administration Et Al". Justia Dockets & Filings. Archived from the original on January 15, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  20. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (December 17, 2013). "Judge Has Record of Wrestling With Thorny Issues, and the U.S. Government". New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  21. ^ Debra Cassens Weiss (March 2, 2011). "Ex-SEC Leader Walks Out on Deposition; Judge Will Consider Requiring Him to Testify". ABA Journal.
  22. ^ "Judge strikes former SEC head as expert witness in Fannie Mae securities fraud case". The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. March 4, 2011.
  23. ^ "Former SEC Head Walked Out on Fannie Mae Deposition". The Blog of Legal Times. March 2, 2011.
  24. ^ "In Re FANNIE MAE SECURITIES LITIGATION". March 7, 2011.
  25. ^ Tyler, Eleanor (November 21, 2017). "AT&T-Time Warner Deal Faces Judge That Heard Comcast-NBCU Case". Bloomberg BNA. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  26. ^ "U.S. and Plaintiff States v. Comcast Corp., et al". United States Department of Justice. June 25, 2015. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  27. ^ "US judge rules Palestinians have 'right' to cover-up terrorist bombing". January 14, 2013.
  28. ^ "Judge blocks D.C. from enforcing 'good reason' requirement for concealed carry permits". The Washington Times. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  29. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  30. ^ "Governor Hogan says Purple Line-blocking judge Richard Leon has a conflict of interest".
  31. ^ Hsu, Spencer S. (January 4, 2018). "Judge sides with House panel on request for records from firm behind Trump dossier". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  32. ^ Kang, Cecilia; Lee, Edmund; Cochrane, Emily (June 13, 2018). "AT&T Wins Approval for $85.4 Billion Time Warner Deal in Defeat for Justice Dept". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  33. ^ McLaughlin, David (December 3, 2018). "CVS Ordered by U.S. Judge to Defend Consummating Aetna Deal". Bloomberg.
  34. ^ "Judge dismisses wall lawsuit brought by butterfly conservationists, who vow to keep fighting". CBS 6 TV. February 17, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
  35. ^ "Federal judge upholds Trump's expansion of non-ObamaCare plans". The Hill. July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  36. ^ "American Forest Resource Council v. Hammond". CaseText. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  37. ^ "American Forest Resource Council v. United States" (PDF). U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. United States Courts. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  38. ^ Savage, Charlie. (30 December 2019). "Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Ex-Trump Aide Subpoenaed in Impeachment Inquiry". NY Times website Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  39. ^ United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (30 December 2019). Memorandum Opinion. Case 1:19-cv-03224-RJL. Charles M. Kupperman v. United States House of Representatives et. al. Politico website Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  40. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  41. ^ "Appeals court upholds but narrows sex-trafficking statute". Politico. July 7, 2023.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by