Expressing frustration over the "Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement," Judge Colleen McMahon was skeptical, however, about the anti-terrorist program under which Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone attack, The New York Times reported Thursday.
In her ruling Wednesday, McMahon said, "It lies beyond the power of this court to conclude that a document has been improperly classified."
She wrote that "I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret."
The Times, two Times reporters and the American Civil Liberties Union had sued for release of the memorandum.
They argued, in part, that public discussions of the reasoning behind the drone strike on Awlaki by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama had weakened the government's argument the memo should be kept secret.
The Times and the ACLU both indicated they would appeal the ruling.