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September 21, 2014

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Lawyer views high court appeal of Area 51 lawsuit a longshot

Even the attorney representing workers at a top-secret Air Force base 100 miles north of Las Vegas says his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is a long shot.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington environmental law professor, is trying to reverse a court order protecting information about the base. "The Supreme Court hears very few cases," he said.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Air Force's claim 3-0 that giving out information about the base could endanger national security.

President Clinton invoked executive privilege in 1995 to suppress evidence.

Turley sued the government on behalf of plaintiff clients who remain nameless to protect their identities. The workers claimed they had been exposed to fumes from toxic waste burned at Area 51 in the 1980s. They want to know what they have been exposed to and get an apology from the government. They are not asking for money.

Two workers died as their case progressed through the judicial system. Their widows claimed their husbands died from exposure to fumes from toxic waste burned at the secret air base.

"What happened was an outrage, and we will remain active in pursuing justice," Turley said.

Turley filed the appeal July 27. He is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the decision from 1997 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"The 9th Circuit's ruling seemed to create new law in national security as well as environmental law that contradicts past Supreme Court rulings," he said. "This case has many of the elements the court looks for. The question is whether a sufficient number of justices will be interested.

The appeals court ruled that five current and former workers at the base and the widows of the two dead workers, all represented by Turley, aren't entitled to learn whether hazardous substances exist at Area 51 or how they are handled.

The court also ruled that the results of a federal inspection of the base and even its name could not be disclosed.

The Justice Department plans to fight Turley's appeal to the Supreme Court, department spokeswoman Chris Watney said. The department has 45 days to appeal "and we will," she said.

Turley said the issues in the Area 51 lawsuit should interest some justices, although the high court accepts few cases to review, he said.

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