Royce Lamberth

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Royce Lamberth
Royce Lamberth Official Photo 2009.jpg
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
May 1, 2008 – July 15, 2013
Preceded byThomas F. Hogan
Succeeded byRichard W. Roberts
Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
In office
May 19, 1995 – May 19, 2002
Preceded byJoyce Hens Green
Succeeded byColleen Kollar-Kotelly
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
November 16, 1987 – July 15, 2013
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byBarrington D. Parker
Succeeded byChristopher R. Cooper
Personal details
Royce Charles Lamberth

(1943-07-16) July 16, 1943 (age 78)
San Antonio, Texas
Political partyRepublican
EducationUniversity of Texas, Austin (BA, LLB)

Royce Charles Lamberth /’læmb-ərth/ (born July 16, 1943) is a senior judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, who formerly served as its chief judge. Since 2015, he has sat as a visiting judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio.[1]

Education and career[edit]

Lamberth was born in 1943 in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas, where he was a member of the Tejas Club, and from the University of Texas School of Law, receiving a Bachelor of Laws in 1967. He served as a captain in the Judge Advocate General 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 United States Attorney's Office, a position he held until his appointment to the federal bench.[2]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Lamberth was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on March 19, 1987, to the seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated by Judge Barrington D. Parker. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 13, 1987, and commissioned on November 16, 1987. He served as chief judge from 2008 to 2013. He assumed senior status on July 15, 2013.[2] He also served as presiding judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 1995 to 2002.[3][4] Since becoming a senior judge, Lamberth has been assigned as a visiting judge in San Antonio for several months per year at the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.[5]

Notable cases[edit]

Cobell v. Kempthorne[edit]

Lamberth presided over Cobell v. Kempthorne, a case in which a group of Native Americans sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for allegedly mismanaging a trust intended for their benefit.[6] Lamberth, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, was known for speaking his mind and repeatedly ruled for the Native Americans in their class-action lawsuit. His opinions condemned the government and found Interior secretaries Gale Norton and Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court for their handling of the case. The appellate court reversed Lamberth several times, including the contempt charge against Norton. After a particularly harsh opinion in 2005, in which Lamberth lambasted the Interior Department as racist, the government petitioned the Court of Appeals to remove him, alleging that he was too biased to continue with the case. On July 11, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, siding with the government, removed Judge Lamberth from the case.[citation needed]

1983 Beirut barracks bombing case[edit]

In May 2003, in a case brought by families of the two hundred forty-one servicemen who were killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, Lamberth ordered the Islamic Republic of Iran to pay US$2.65 billion for the actions of Hezbollah, a Shia militia group determined to be involved in the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.[7]

Guantanamo cases[edit]

Lamberth has presided over Guantanamo captives habeas corpus petitions.[8][9]

On December 29, 2016, Lamberth ordered the preservation of the full classified United States Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.[10] The six thousand–page report had taken Intelligence Committee staff years to prepare. A six hundred–page unclassified summary was published in December 2014, when Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein chaired the committee, against objections of the Committee's Republican minority. Its publication stirred controversy. Limited copies of the classified report had been made, and human rights workers were concerned that the CIA would work to have all copies of the document destroyed.[citation needed]

James Rosen search warrants[edit]

In 2010, two federal magistrate judges approved a warrant sought by Attorney General Eric Holder's 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.[11] 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.[12]

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,[13] called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.[14] Susan Jacoby complained that his decision was more a reflection of his politics than a rigorous interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.[15]

Judge Lamberth refused to lift the injunction forbidding the research pending the appeal of his ruling, and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order on September 9, 2010, providing for an emergency temporary lifting of the injunction in the case that had forbidden the research, at the request of the Justice Department. A three judge panel from that court overturned Lamberth's decision in August 2012, and the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's request for an appeal.[16]

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 administration insisting on the continued need for privacy of those involved.[17]

Royer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons[edit]

On January 15, 2014, Judge Lamberth issued an order[18] 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."[19] 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?"[18][19] 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."[19] 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.[19][20] 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.[19]

United States v. Bolton[edit]

In June 2020, Lamberth was assigned the case United States v. Bolton,[21] in which the Trump administration sued to prevent the publication of John Bolton's book The Room Where It Happened.[22] On June 20, Lamberth issued a ruling declining to enjoin the publication, but leaving the case open for other remedies.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Official Congressional Directory, 2005-2006: 109th Congress". Government Printing Office. 2005. p. 843. ISBN 9780160724671. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  2. ^ a b "Lamberth, Royce C. - Federal Judicial Center".
  3. ^ "Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth". United States Department of Justice. Archived from the original on 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth".
  6. ^ "Disputes Continue Over Royalties Owed to American Indians". Fox News. 2006-05-06. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  7. ^ Matt Apuzzo (September 7, 2007). "Iran is fined $2.65 billion in Marine deaths". Archived from the original on September 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
  8. ^ James Vicini (2008-06-18). "U.S. judge meets lawyers to discuss Guantanamo cases". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  9. ^ James Vicini (2008-07-02). "Judges assigned to decide Guantanamo cases". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  10. ^ Carol Rosenberg (2016-12-29). "Federal judge preserves CIA 'Torture Report' after Guantánamo war court wouldn't do it". Miami: Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 2016-12-30. Retrieved 2017-01-03. U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued the two-page order Wednesday in Washington, in the mostly dormant federal court challenge of the Guantánamo detention of former CIA prisoner Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. The Saudi, who was waterboarded and rectally abused while a captive of the spy agency, is awaiting trial by military commission as the alleged architect of al-Qaida's Oct. 12, 2000, USS Cole bombing off Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
  11. ^ "How Prosecutors Fought to Keep Rosen's Warrant Secret". The New Yorker. 2013-05-24. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
  12. ^ Judge apologizes for lack of transparency in James Rosen leak probe, Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, May 22, 2013
  13. ^ Harris, Gardiner (August 23, 2010). "U.S. Judge Rules Against Obama's Stem Cell Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  14. ^ Rob Stein and Spencer S. Hsu (August 24, 2010). "NIH cannot fund embryonic stem cell research, judge rules". Washington Post.
  15. ^ Jacoby, Susan. "One Judge And Christian Right Throw Stem Cell Research Into Chaos". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2010-09-06.
  16. ^ Wadman, Meredith. "High court ensures continued US funding of human embryonic-stem-cell research". Nature. Nature. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  17. ^ John Schwartz (2011-07-29). "Judge Orders Release of Nixon's Watergate Testimony". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
  18. ^ a b "Royer Order" (PDF).
  19. ^ a b c d e Greenfield, Scott (2014-01-30) When Judge Lamberth Smacks, The DOJ Hides, Simple Justice
  20. ^ "Royer Substitution Order" (PDF).
  21. ^ United States v. Bolton, no. 20-1580 (filed June 17, 2020, D.C.D.C)
  22. ^ Savage, Charlie (June 17, 2020). "Justice Dept. Escalates Legal Fight With Bolton Over Book". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  23. ^ Gerstein, Josh; Cheney, Kyle (June 20, 2020). "'The damage is done': Judge denies Trump administration request to block Bolton book". Politico. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  24. ^ United States v. Bolton, no. 20-1580 (filed June 17, 2020, D.C.D.C) (June 20, 2020 Memorandum Order)


Legal offices
Preceded by
Barrington D. Parker
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Christopher R. Cooper
Preceded by
Joyce Hens Green
Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
Succeeded by
Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
Preceded by
Thomas F. Hogan
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Richard W. Roberts