In 1996 Congress created the Alien Terrorist Removal Court as a special court and authorized the Chief Justice of the United States to designate five U.S. district court judges to review applications for the removal from the United States of alien terrorists. Judges serve for staggered, renewable five-year terms and must be drawn from different judicial circuits. The Chief Justice may appoint to the court the same judges designated to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The provisions for the court were part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (110 Stat. 1214), a broad legislative effort to combat international terrorism.
The statute authorized the Attorney General to draft an application for removal of a suspected alien terrorist, and to submit the application to the removal court under seal. A single judge may grant the application upon a finding that the alien in question has been identified correctly as an alien terrorist present in the United States and that removal under other available legal means would pose a risk to national security. Upon granting a removal application, the court must hold a public removal hearing at which the accused has the right to be represented by counsel and the government bears the burden of proving that the accused is an alien terrorist. To avoid the disclosure of classified information, the government must prepare an unclassified summary of such information which the judge must find to be sufficient for the alien to prepare a defense. If the government meets its burden of proof at the hearing, the court will order the alien removed from the United States.
The Attorney General may appeal a judge's denial of an application for removal, and either the Attorney General or an alien may appeal the decision of the judge after a removal hearing. All appeals are to be made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
As of 2018, the removal court had never received an application from the Attorney General for the removal of an alien terrorist, and had therefore conducted no proceedings.