Royce Charles 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. Since 2015, he has sat with the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas at San Antonio, Texas.
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'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 United States Attorney's Office, a position he held until his appointment to the federal bench.
Lamberth was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on March 19, 1987, to a 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 received commission on November 16, 1987. He served as Chief Judge from 2008 to 2013. He assumed senior status on July 15, 2013. He also served as Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 1995 to 2002. 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.
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.
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.
On December 29, 2016, less than a month before the end of the Obama administration, Lambeth ordered the preservation of the full classified United States Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. The 6000 page report had taken Intelligence Committee Staff years to prepare. A 600 page unclassified summary was published in December 2014, when Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein chaired the committee, against the extreme objections of the Committee's Republican minority. Its publication stirred controversy. Limited numbers of full copies of the classified report had been made, and human rights workers were concerned that the CIA would work to have all copies of this important document destroyed, because it was so embarrassing. Lambeth's ruling helped make sure attempts to destroy all copies of the report would fail.
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. 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.
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, called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Secularist Susan Jacoby complained that his decision was more a reflection of his politics than a rigorous interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
When Judge Lamberth refused in September 2010 to lift the injunction forbidding the research pending the appeal of his ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 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, 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.
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.
On January 15, 2014, Judge Lamberth issued an Order 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." 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?" 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." 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. 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.
Twelve of the 14 judges who have served this year on the most secret court in America are Republicans and half are former prosecutors.
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, 51. 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.
Barrington D. Parker
|Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Christopher R. Cooper
Joyce Hens Green
|Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
Thomas F. Hogan
|Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Richard W. Roberts