Supreme Court rejects ACLU challenge to wiretaps
The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Bush administration's domestic spying program. However, the justices' decision Tuesday included no comment explaining why they turned down the appeal from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Although we are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case, it is worth noting that today’s action says nothing about the case’s merits and does not suggest in any way an endorsement of the lower court’s decision. The court’s unwillingness to act makes it even more important that Congress insist on legislative safeguards that will protect civil liberties without jeopardizing national security," ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro said in a news release.
The setback comes as Congress spars with President Bush over whether to grant legal immunity to telecommunications companies. The ACLU and other groups say some 40 similar lawsuits pending against the private companies, rather than the government itself, are among the only means of oversight of Bush's warratnless wiretapping program.
“Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act intending to protect the rights of U.S. citizens and residents, and the president systematically broke that law over a period of more than five years," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. "It’s very disturbing that the president’s actions will not be reviewed by the Supreme Court. It shouldn’t be left to executive branch officials alone to determine what limits apply to their own surveillance activities and whether those limits are being honored. Allowing the executive branch to police itself flies in the face of the constitutional system of checks and balances.”
The court said plaintiffs represented by the ACLU could not sue the government because they could not prove their communications had been warrantlessly monitored by the National Security Agency. Shapiro also called it a "Catch-22" scenario because records of who the government spied on were classified.
The ACLU wanted the court to allow a lawsuit by the group and individuals over the warrantless wiretapping program. An appeals court dismissed the suit because the plaintiffs cannot prove their communications have been monitored.
The government has refused to turn over information about the closely guarded program that could reveal who has been under surveillance.
(with wire reports)