""Sometime during all of this," Mr. Eisenberg said, "I went on Amazon and ordered a copy of Kafka's 'The Trial,' because I needed a refresher course in bizarre legal procedure."
From the story: The Bush administration has employed extraordinary secrecy in defending the National Security Agency's highly classified domestic surveillance program from civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs and judges' clerks cannot see its secret filings. Judges have to make appointments to review them and are not allowed to keep copies.
Judges have even been instructed to use computers provided by the Justice Department to compose their decisions.
But now the procedures have started to meet resistance. At a private meeting with the lawyers in one of the cases this month, the judges who will hear the first appeal next week expressed uneasiness about the procedures, said a lawyer who attended, Ann Beeson of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lawyers suing the government and some legal scholars say the procedures threaten the separation of powers, the adversary system and the lawyer-client privilege.
Justice Department officials say the circumstances of the cases, involving a highly classified program, require extraordinary measures. The officials say they have used similar procedures in other cases involving classified materials.
In ordinary civil suits, the parties' submissions are sent to their adversaries and are available to the public in open court files. But in several cases challenging the eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers have been submitting legal papers not by filing them in court but by placing them in a room at the department. They have filed papers, in other words, with themselves.
At the meeting this month, judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit asked how the procedures might affect the integrity of the files and the appellate records.
In response, Joan B. Kennedy, a Justice Department official, submitted, in one of the department's unclassified filings, a detailed seven-page sworn statement last Friday defending the practices.
"The documents reviewed by the court have not been altered and will not be altered," Ms. Kennedy wrote, and they "will be preserved securely as part of the record of this case."
Some cases challenging the program, which monitored international communications of people in the United States without court approval, have also involved atypical maneuvering. Soon after one suit challenging the program was filed last year in Oregon, Justice Department lawyers threatened to seize an exhibit from the court file.
This month, in the same case, the department sought to inspect and delete files from the computers on which lawyers for the plaintiffs had prepared their legal filings...