Royce C. Lamberth

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Royce C. Lamberth
Royce Lamberth Official Photo 2009.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Assumed office
July 15, 2013
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
2008 – July 15, 2013
Preceded by Thomas F. Hogan
Succeeded by Richard W. Roberts
Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
In office
May 19, 1995 – May 18, 2002
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
November 16, 1987 – July 15, 2013
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Barrington D. Parker
Succeeded by Christopher Cooper
Personal details
Born (1943-07-16) July 16, 1943 (age 72)
San Antonio, Texas
Alma mater University of Texas B.A.
University of Texas School of Law LL.B.
Profession Judge

Royce C. Lamberth (born July 16, 1943) is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who formerly served as its Chief Judge.[1]


Lamberth was born in 1943 in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas, where he was a member of the Tejas Club, and from the University of Texas School of Law, receiving an LL.B. in 1967. He served as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the United States Army from 1968 to 1974, including one year in Vietnam. After that, he became an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1978, Lamberth became Chief of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office, a position he held until his appointment to the federal bench.

Federal judicial service[edit]

He was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 19, 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the United States Senate on November 13, 1987. He served as Chief Judge of the court from 2008 to July 15, 2013, and assumed senior status the same day. He was succeeded as Chief Judge by Judge Richard W. Roberts.

He also served as Presiding Judge of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 1995 to 2002.[2][3]

Notable cases[edit]

Cobell v. Kempthorne[edit]

Lamberth is known for presiding over a case, Cobell v. Kempthorne in which a group of American Indians sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for allegedly mismanaging a trust intended for their benefit.[4]

In May 2003, in a case brought by the families of the 241 servicemen who were killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, Lamberth declared that Beirut, in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, did not constitute a war zone; and that the U.S. Marines stationed there were not, in fact, soldiers. Given the bench's reasoning, the Islamic Republic of Iran was ordered to pay US$2.65 billion for the actions of Hezbollah, a Shia militia.[5]

Guantanamo cases[edit]

Lamberth has presided over Guantanamo captives habeas corpus petitions.[6][7]

James Rosen search warrants[edit]

In 2010, two federal magistrate judges approved a warrant sought by the Holder Justice Department to search personal e-mails and phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen related to a story about the North Korean nuclear program. In May 2010, Judge Lamberth overruled Magistrate Judge John Facciola's determination that the Justice Department needed to directly notify Rosen of the issuance of the warrant. [8] In May 2013, Lamberth issued an apology from the bench for the Clerk's Office's failure to unseal the search warrant docket entries, as Judge Lamberth himself had ordered the matter unsealed in November 2011.[9]

Sherley v. Sebelius[edit]

In August 2010, Lamberth issued a temporary injunction blocking an executive order by President Barack Obama that expanded stem cell research. He indicated the policy violated a ban on federal money being used to destroy embryos,[10] called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.[11] Self-styled atheist and secularist Susan Jacoby complained that his decision was more a reflection of his politics than a rigorous interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.[12]

When Judge Lamberth refused in September 2010 to lift the injunction forbidding the research pending the appeal of his ruling, the Obama Justice Department asked the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will eventually hear the initial appeal of the case (possibly on an expedited basis), to issue an emergency order to override Judge Lamberth's refusal to lift the injunction, which would enable new embryonic stem cell research to continue (work on embryonic stem cell research that was already approved under the law prior to the order's issuance is unaffected; it can be carried on even while the case is going on). The Court of Appeals issued an order on Thursday, September 9, 2010, providing for an emergency temporary lifting of the injunction in the case that had forbidden the research. The appeals court agreed to temporarily lift the injunction to consider the merits of allowing a more permanent lifting of the injunction that would, if instituted, be in place until Judge Lamberth issues his ruling and the ruling is appealed to the same appeals court. The court of appeals gave both sides until Monday, September 20, 2010 to file argument briefs, when it will decide whether to grant a more permanent version of the injunction, or reverse itself and order an end to the research in agreement with the judge.

In re Kutler[edit]

In July 2011, Judge Lamberth ordered the release of Richard Nixon's testimony concerning the Watergate scandal. The Justice Department reviewed the decision after an objection from the presidential administration insisting on the continued need for privacy of those involved.[13]

Royer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons[edit]

On January 15, 2014, Judge Lamberth issued an Order[14] harshly criticizing the Department of Justice for what he described as its "sneering argument" that a federal prisoner had not been prejudiced by the Department's repeated failure to comply with discovery "because he remains incarcerated."[15] Judge Lamberth went on to write that "[t]he whole point of this litigation is whether defendant can continue to single out plaintiff for special treatment as a terrorist during his continued period of incarceration. Did any supervising attorney ever read this nonsense that is being argued to this Court?"[14][15] Judge Lamberth proceeded "to grant the inmate plaintiff pretty much all his discovery motion and hammer[ed] the DOJ by telling plaintiff to submit its request for sanctions in the form of award of attorney fees and costs."[15] In response to the Order, the Justice Department moved to substitute new counsel "and remove the appearances of all prior counsel for Defendant in the above-captioned case," Assistant United States Attorneys Charlotte Abel, Laurie Weinstein, Rhonda Campbell and Rhonda Fields.[15][16] This led one legal commentator to note that "[i]t appears that the government is seeking the clerk’s assistance in fundamentally altering the record, to intentionally conceal the identities of the assistants" who had been reprimanded by Judge Lamberth.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Official Congressional Directory, 2005-2006: 109th Congress". Government Printing Office. 2005. p. 843. ISBN 9780160724671. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  2. ^ "Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth". United States Department of Justice. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  3. ^ John Shiffman, Kristina Cooke (2013-06-21). "The judges who preside over America's secret court". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2013-06-23. Retrieved 2013-07-01. Twelve of the 14 judges who have served this year on the most secret court in America are Republicans and half are former prosecutors. 
  4. ^ "Disputes Continue Over Royalties Owed to American Indians". Fox News. 2006-05-06. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  5. ^ Matt Apuzzo (September 7, 2007). "Iran is fined $2.65 billion in Marine deaths". Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  6. ^ James Vicini (2008-06-18). "U.S. judge meets lawyers to discuss Guantanamo cases". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  7. ^ James Vicini (2008-07-02). "Judges assigned to decide Guantanamo cases". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  8. ^ "How Prosecutors Fought to Keep Rosen’s Warrant Secret". The New Yorker. 2013-05-24. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  9. ^ Judge apologizes for lack of transparency in James Rosen leak probe, Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, May 22, 2013
  10. ^ Harris, Gardiner (August 23, 2010). "U.S. Judge Rules Against Obama's Stem Cell Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  11. ^ Rob Stein and Spencer S. Hsu (August 24, 2010). "NIH cannot fund embryonic stem cell research, judge rules". Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Jacoby, Susan. "One Judge And Christian Right Throw Stem Cell Research Into Chaos". The Washington Post. 
  13. ^ John Schwartz (2011-07-29). "Judge Orders Release of Nixon's Watergate Testimony". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-01. 
  14. ^ a b Royer Order
  15. ^ a b c d e Greenfield, Scott (2014-01-30) When Judge Lamberth Smacks, The DOJ Hides, Simple Justice
  16. ^ Royer Substitution Order
Legal offices
Preceded by
Barrington D. Parker
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Christopher Reid Cooper