An honorable lion saves the Fourth Amendment
Finally some good news to write about! On Monday, Dec. 16, a US district judge in the District of Columbia, the Honorable Richard Leon, ruled that the National Security Agency's wholesale vacuuming up of phone records on US citizens is unconstitutional.
With almost no legal training -- other than my courtroom experience and a cursory reading of the US Constitution -- I could have come to the same conclusion. You could have too for that matter.
It is an insightful commentary on the tenor of our times when a decision that should elicit a “Well duh!” is met with a “Whew!” We are down to celebrating statements of the obvious.
In his 68 page memorandum Judge Leon wrote that the NSA's actions constituted an unreasonable search and/or seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment -- part of the what's left of the Bill of Rights.
Leon further stated that the "Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, would be “aghast” at the NSA's actions if he were alive today.
In addition to sound legal reasoning, the good judge also gets the award for this year's best use of the word “aghast.”
Judge Leon also wrote:
“The government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,” the judge wrote.
“Given the limited record before me at this point in the litigation -– most notably, the utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics -- I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”
“Because the government can use daily metadata collection to engage in ‘repetitive, surreptitious surveillance of a citizen’s private goings on,’ the NSA database ‘implicated the Fourth Amendment each time a government official monitors it,” Leon said.
"The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1970."
Unfortunately the ruling is stayed pending an appeal that the Obama administration will most likely pursue. So our beleaguered Constitution is still getting CPR. And it will be months before this gets resolved.
The NSA had no immediate comment on the ruling.
That we even know about this program of our government's blanket surveillance of us all is thanks to whistle blower Edward Snowden. You know, the guy who has to hide out in Russia to be protected from prosecution (or should the word be persecution) by the US government.
Mr. Snowden had this to say about the ruling:
“I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
In a delicious twist, Judge Leon is a 2002 appointee of George W. Bush. Well at least some good came out of that catastrophe.
Leon is “lion” in French -- another wonderful twist to the story as the lion is not only a symbol of strength but because it functions during the day and night it is also a symbol of balance and sound judgment.
Thank you for the early Christmas gift Honorable Richard Leon.
And note here that I use his title, “Honorable” in the very best sense of the word.