David McCraw, class of '92, was recently published in the National Law Journal. His piece, "Drone Memo Ruling a Model of Judicial Skepticism," discusses his involvement in representing the New York Times against the U.S. Department of Justice in an attempt to reveal the secretive reasons for the government’s targeted killings of people around the world, including Americans.
The lawsuit McCraw filed led to the successful release of a classified document from July 2010, one that McCraw states should have been available to the public years ago. Although segments of the memo remain sealed, this conquest has raised public awareness of the issues associated with the Freedom of Information Act and how the law tends to favor the government over its own citizens.
McCraw defends the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which gives citizens the right to access records from the federal government that are not protected from public disclosure. As the FOIA litigation and legal counsel to the New York Times Company, he has represented them in both state and federal courts.
McCraw challenged the refusal of the Obama administration to reveal the legal reasons behind the September 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen against American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, an attack that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, of which only al-Awlaki was targeted. After two and a half years of legal battle, a previously-classified memorandum was released that explained the legal reasoning behind the drone strike. This case has been crucial in sparking debate over targeted killings, as it has brought to light the idea that the United States government is keeping unnecessary secrets. The case was a notable success because it is the first time since the 9/11 attacks that a classified document had been released due to a court of appeals reversing a district court.
McCraw earned his B.S. in Journalism from the University of Illinois in 1976, his M.P.S. in communications from Cornell University in 1979, and his J.D. from Albany Law School in 1992. He currently teaches Media Law and Mass Media Law as an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law and teaches workshops around the world on freedom of information.
In addition to leading the Times’ litigation that challenged the Obama administration’s 2011 drone attacks in Yemen, McCraw was heavily involved in the case of the New York State Police Department’s systematic violation of the Freedom of Information law and New York City’s secret compilation of first responder’s oral histories following the September 11th terrorist attack.
In the New York Law Journal piece, McCraw indicates that he will continue to fight the battle for FOIA, hoping to instill meaningful change in the way that the government communicates with the American public. In addition, he mentions that it is crucial that reporters are protected from the government, as the government is favored by the U.S. law system.
By Eirinn Norrie