Oral argument: Jan. 18, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (June 2, 2009)
GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS, STATE SECRETS PRIVILEGE, DUE PROCESS, NATIONAL SECURITY
In 1988, the United States Navy contracted with McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics Corporation to build stealth aircraft. In 1991, the Navy discontinued the stealth aircraft program and terminated the contract. McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics sued in the Court of Federal Claims, alleging that delays in the building of the aircraft were due to the government's failure to share information. The United States asserted the state secrets privilege, claiming that disclosure of this information would harm national security. The Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the United States, holding that the government could assert its termination claim against the contractors and invoke the state secrets privilege to preclude the contractors' defense. The Boeing Company (which merged with McDonnell Douglas during the litigation) and General Dynamics appealed, arguing that the government cannot maintain a claim against a party when it invokes the state secrets privilege to preclude that party from raising a defense in a civil case where the government is the moving party. The contractors also claimed the invocation of the privilege violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court's decision will affect the use of the state secrets privilege to protect national security and the right of private litigants to assert defenses against government claims.