Appeals court vacates wiretapping ruling

A federal appeals court on Friday dealt a blow to civil libertarians who challenged the Bush administration's controversial domestic spying program. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 to vacate a lower court's finding that the warrantless wiretapping effort was unconstitutional.

U.S. Circuit Judges Alice Batchelder and Julia Smith Gibbons ruled against a group of lawyers, journalists and scholars led by the American Civil Liberties Union who believed they had been spied on. The Republican-appointed duo said the plaintiffs lacked standing for their claims.

ACLU Legal Director Steven Shapiro said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision. The ruling insulates President Bush's warrantless eavesdropping from judicial review and deprives Americans of the ability to challenge illegal telephone and e-mail surveillance, he said in a press release.

The ACLU filed the suit in a Michigan federal court last January and U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled favorably for the group in August, making hers the first and only decision by a federal court to strike down the program.

Taylor found that the spying ran afoul the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and said the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism initiative violated the separation of powers as well as citizens' rights to free speech and privacy.

The appeals court did not uphold the legality of the government spying program, Shapiro contended. The only judge to discuss the merits, Democratic appointee Ronald Lee Gilman, said in his dissenting opinion that the suit was justified and the spying had clearly violated FISA.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the court's ruling confirmed that the plaintiffs "cannot seek to expose sensitive details about the classified and important terrorist surveillance program." The program "was always subject to rigorous oversight and review," he said.

The ACLU is reviewing its legal options, including asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, Shapiro said. "In the meantime, it is now more important than ever for Congress to engage in meaningful oversight," he added.

Center for Democracy and Technology Policy Director Jim Dempsey called the ruling "unfortunate" and said it "throws the burden back on Congress, which still doesn't have the full facts."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., issued subpoenas last month to the White House, Vice President's office and the Justice Department for documents about warrantless surveillance. The deadline for compliance is July 18.

The appeals court decision was "a disappointing one that was not made on the merits of the case, yet closed the courthouse doors to resolving it," Leahy said. He urged the administration to hand over the requested papers "so that those of us who represent the American people can get to the bottom of what happened and why."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.