Supreme Court hears warrantless wiretapping case despite storm
WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court was one of the few public bodies to shrug off the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy Monday and open its doors, before finally deciding to postpone the next day’s hearings.
Most public services were closed in the capital city, Washington, on Monday as the weather system dubbed “Frankenstorm” roared towards the East Coast, forcing the federal government to declare a two-day shutdown.
The top US court decided to go ahead with Monday’s hearings, but closed its doors after lunch and postponed all hearings set for Tuesday to a future date.
A preliminary hearing on the case of soldier Bradley Manning, accused of leaking thousands of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website, was also put off until November 7. It will now be held at the Fort Meade military base, in eastern Maryland.
The main case to be examined on Monday was brought by Amnesty International as well as journalists, lawyers and civil rights organizations against a wire-tapping program put in place in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The complaint argued against a 2008 amendment to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international phone calls and emails of Americans if they were suspected in terror plots.
The plaintiffs argued that the new provisions of the law violated individual constitutional rights and had forced people into adopting costly procedures to ensure that calls abroad remained confidential.
However, the case is focused on whether the groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have the right to bring the matter before the Supreme Court, as the government has argued they cannot show that they have personally suffered as a result of such wire-tapping.
Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told the nine-strong top bench that the plaintiffs had shown “no evidence that the United States would imminently acquire their international communications.”
A lower appeals court found in favor of the civil rights groups ruling their fears of increased surveillance were not “fanciful, paranoid, or otherwise unreasonable.”
And several of the Supreme Court judges appeared to be leaning in the same direction.
Judge Elena Kagan compared the case to that of farmers who took precautions if they fear “significant risks that the crop might be contaminated.”
“You’re a good lawyer,” she told government lawyer Donald Verrilli. “You’re a lawyer representing terrorists… as a lawyer would you take precautions?”
Verrilli replied, however that that was just “speculation” and any risk had to be properly demonstrated.
Judge Stephen Breyer raised the case of a lawyer for one of the Guantanamo detainees who has taken preventative measures to ensure his phone calls and emails are not intercepted.
Deputy legal director of the ACLU Foundation, Jameel Jaffer, admitted to the court “it’s true we don’t know that our clients have been specifically monitored, we’ll never know.
“You’re right our communications are not targeted, but they (may be) monitored.”
The court is due to rule on the case in 2013.