[JURIST] The US DC Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] Friday blocked the US Department of Justice from reviewing the contents of files seized from the congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official website] until Jefferson has an opportunity to review them himself [remand order] to determine which might fall under the legislative privilege defined in the US Constitution's so-called Speech or Debate Clause [text]. The court did not order the documents returned, but rather said Jefferson had the right to review copies. Jefferson is appealing a District Court ruling earlier this month finding the search constitutional [JURIST report; PDF opinion]; the appeals court ruled that action would be halted pending the documents review.
The files were seized in an 18-hour federal raid [JURIST report] in May. Jefferson has not been charged with any crime, and has denied accusations that he took bribes from a Kentucky telecommunications company in exchange for brokering a deal with the government of Nigeria. The search sparked bipartisan criticism from the House of Representatives, including an accusation from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) that the DOJ crossed the line of separation of powers [JURIST report]. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and FBI Director Robert Mueller were among a host of government officials who said they would resign [JURIST report] if forced to hand back information gathered during the search, causing President Bush to order the documents to be sealed for 45 days [JURIST report] until the matter could be resolved. AP has more.