In Supreme Court Case, Obama Tries to Block Challenges to Illegal Surveillance


By John Glasser

The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Clapper v. Amnesty International, a case which will determine whether or not the government’s warrantless surveillance of American citizens can be challenged in court, even when the specifics of the program are secret.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was enacted by Congress in the 1960s and 70s and regulates the government’s conduct of intelligence surveillance inside the United States. In 2001 – following the 9/11 attacks – President Bush illegally authorized the National Security Agency to launch a warrantless wiretapping program, in breach of FISA “and in 2008 Congress ratified and expanded that program, giving the NSA almost unchecked power to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails,” the ACLU explains.

Court challenges to the government’s new surveillance laws have come forth since 2001, but the government has typically stopped the judicial process in its tracks, arguing that the case cannot proceed because aspects of the program must remain secret for national security reasons and that plaintiff’s don’t have “standing” to challenge the law unless they know for sure they have been surveilled.

Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, participated in the oral arguments on Monday and firmly told the Supreme Court justices that the new FISA surveillance laws are unconstitutional.

But “the constitutionality of the global spying is not directly at issue,” writes Lyle Denniston at the SCOTUS blog. ”[T]he sole issue is whether anyone has a legal right to file a lawsuit against it.”

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