The Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that challenged the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The court ruled by a 2-1 vote that the plaintiffs in the case lacked legal standing for their claims, and vacated the order of the district court in Detroit that had ruled in favor of the ACLU. The appeals court also sent the case back to district court with instructions that it be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. In order to have standing, a plaintiff must establish that they have a personal stake in the case. The court ruled that the ACLU, and the fellow plaintiffs they represented, could not demonstrate that they were injured by the president’s program, and thus, did not have a stake in the case.

The court wrote in their ruling, “We have consistently stressed that a plaintiff’s complaint must establish that he has a ‘personal stake’ in the alleged dispute, and that the alleged injury suffered is particularized as to him. In any event, the existing district court decisions regarding this TSP reveal a wholly different picture from that presented by the plaintiffs. Neither of the two district courts to address claims against the NSA’s operation of the TSP found that their plaintiffs had standing.” They concluded that none of the plaintiffs in the case could establish standing for any of their claims.

The court concluded that even if the plaintiffs could find evidence that they were injured by the domestic spying program, they couldn’t use it, because that evidence would be covered as a state secret under the State Secrets Doctrine. In layman’s terms, the case was thrown out because the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that they had been wiretapped by the U.S. government, and even if they could, that evidence might not be admissible because it may be a state secret. ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro said, “We are deeply disappointed by today’s decision that insulates the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails.”

In this case the court did not rule on the legality of the government’s program, but in his dissent Judge Ronald Lee Gilman made it clear that he believes that the program is illegal, and does violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This case is important because it opens the door for either the ACLU to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, or for another suit to be filed that questions the legality of the program. It seems obvious that the program is in direct violation of FISA, which is why the White House took the steps to put in up for court review, but still only the federal district court has ruled the program illegal. It seems like only a matter of time before this critical test of presidential powers is argued before the Supreme Court.

ACLU statement on the decision.

Full text of the court’s opinion

 

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