WASHINGTON (CN) - Lawyers representing a conservative think tank pushed a federal judge on Tuesday to make Prince Harry's visa application public record, arguing that his publicized use of drugs renders his visa invalid and proves U.S. immigration agencies gave him preferential treatment because of his royal status.
The lawsuit, brought by the Heritage Foundation against the Department of Homeland Security, is not a condemnation of the Duke of Sussex's morality, but rather is a critique of the agency's conduct and compliance with the law, said Samuel Dewey, an attorney for the think tank.
U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Donald Trump appointee, was skeptical of the request because the records request relates to the Freedom of Information Act, which usually results only in the transfer of records between parties and not a judge granting a preliminary injunction to force one party to expedite the release.
Nichols said he was frustrated that he was being asked to resolve an issue that had little to do with the merits of the case and decided to take the motion under advisement and give the parties another week to come to a decision on whether to release the requested documents sooner than later.
According to Dewey, there is "immense public interest" regarding the records, in part because it involves Prince Harry and because it raises questions about appropriateness of DHS conduct.
"Heritage has a concern institutionally that DHS does not comply with the law," Dewey said.
John Bardo, a Justice Department attorney representing DHS, explained that the agency simply cannot release the documents because someone's visa status is confidential. Further, the public interest the plaintiffs stake their claim on is flimsy at best, he argued, as most of the articles commenting on Prince Harry's immigration status come from disreputable British new sites like the Daily Mail rather than mainstream American organizations.
Responding to a question from Nichols on whether there is still significant public interest among Americans despite the source of the information, Bardo said if there is, it is only among "certain social circles."
Nichols did not seem to accept Bardo's assertion that suspicion of government wrongdoing can be the grounds for an expedited records release only when that suspicion is reflected in articles from media outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He said there was no court precedent stating such a rule.
In the original complaint filed in early May, Heritage's lawyers argue that Prince Harry revoked his right to privacy on his drug use - and therefore on his visa status - by making the "affirmative choice to put almost every aspect of his life on display ... explicitly for massive commercial gain," referring to the prince's memoir, "Spare," published earlier this year.
In the memoir, Prince Harry recounts his experiences with drugs like marijuana, cocaine and psychedelics such as mushrooms, psilocybin and ayahuasca over the course of his life, saying that he turned to drugs to deal with the trauma caused by the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and living as part of the British royal family.
The complaint also highlighted other cases where world-famous celebrities were subject to American immigration laws because of drug-related charges, such as John Lennon, Diego Maradona and Amy Winehouse.
According to the complaint, Winehouse was denied entry to the U.S. after a series of highly publicized drug charges and was unable to attend the 2008 Grammy Awards. The think tank asserts that if other celebrities could still be held to the same standards as everyday migrants, then so too should Prince Harry.
Source: Courthouse News Service