Detroit — In an American Civil Liberties Union case, a federal court today ruled that the Bush administration’s program to monitor the phone calls and e-mails of Americans without warrants is unconstitutional and must be stopped. This is the first ruling by a federal court to strike down the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.
Today’s ruling is a landmark victory against the abuse of power that has become the hallmark of the Bush administration," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Government spying on innocent Americans without any kind of warrant and without Congressional approval runs counter to the very foundations of our democracy. Now Congress needs to do its job and stop the president from violating the law."
Today’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor agreed with the ACLU that the NSA program violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, and runs counter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress. Judge Taylor also rejected the government’s argument that the case could not proceed because of state secrets, saying that facts about NSA wiretapping have already been conceded by the government.
"By holding that even the president is not above the law, the court has done its duty under our Constitution to serve as a check on executive power," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, who argued the case before Judge Taylor. "Throwing out the Constitution will not make Americans any safer."
In her ruling, Judge Taylor dismisses the government’s argument that the president "has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself."
"There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution," wrote Judge Taylor.
Judge Taylor will next consider a request from the government for a stay pending the government's appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU will oppose the motion, but has agreed to a short temporary stay until the court can rule on the government's request. That hearing is expected to be held on September 7th.
Beginning in 2001, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of people within the United States, including U.S. citizens, without a warrant. The ongoing surveillance program has been in direct violation of FISA, which requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant before engaging in electronic surveillance of Americans.
The national ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan brought the lawsuit on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations who say that the NSA program is disrupting their ability to communicate effectively with sources and clients.
Judge Taylor noted that impact in today’s ruling, citing scholars such as New York University professor Barnett Rubin, who recently returned from Afghanistan where he was conducting interviews for a policy report for the Council on Foreign Relations.
"In order for me to provide analysis and updates for the American public and officials who are concerned about Afghanistan, I need to be able to have confidential communications," Professor Rubin said. "My experience in Afghanistan convinces me that illegal programs such as warrantless NSA spying and the detentions at Guantánamo actually undermine national security."
Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, said, "Judge Taylor said today - ‘there are no hereditary kings in America,’ and today’s decision just vindicates the rights of the people for the people."
The White House has stonewalled congressional attempts to investigate the administration’s circumvention of FISA. President Bush personally blocked an investigation by the Justice Department regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Although Congress lacks a full understanding of the facts, several bills have been introduced that would reward the government’s illegal actions by changing the law to legitimize the programs.
The case, ACLU v. NSA, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Attorneys in the case are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU, and Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.
Today’s decision is online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/26477lgl20060817.htm