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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance 141

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the try-again-later dept.
An anonymous reader writes "On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's bulk acquisition and storage of phone record metadata. The petition (PDF) for a Supreme Court ruling was submitted as a result of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon staying his ruling (PDF), pending an appeal, in a suit in which he concluded that collection of phone metadata without probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs had bypassed the federal appeals court and applied directly to the high court, given Judge Leon's admission that the case had significant national security interests at stake. The Supreme Court's decision not to rule on the case means that an appeal will need to be submitted to the federal appeals court as per protocol, but there is speculation that the mass surveillance issue will likely be addressed in the legislative and executive branches of government before the judicial branch weighs in. The provision allowing the bulk collection, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expires June 1, 2015.'"
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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Rule On Constitutionality of Bulk Surveillance

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  • Constitutional Court (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 07, 2014 @06:54PM (#46689017)

    "U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of "

    Seems like the US needs a Constitutional Court who rule on nothing else but constitutional matters, and cannot decline.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Not only are they a court purchased by corporate interests, they are intellectually weak and the lack any courage to do the right thing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        no, they have the courage to do the right thing and allow the appellate court to rule. The only time a level of appeal should be skipped is when there are differing opinions extant at the many appellate courts.

        • I'm afraid this is not true. An appellate court, presented with a singular case, can make a wrong decision. That means appealing to the Supreme Court, especially ofr issues of constitutional law or refinement of previous Supreme Court precedents which are being misapplied.

        • I'm not so sure. How many cases end in capitulation due to lack of funds?

      • by NotDrWho (3543773)

        They wanted to be intellectually strong, but their corporate masters said no.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nurb432 (527695)

      That is one of the few mistakes our founders made. Allowing the court to ignore cases.

      • by Frobnicator (565869) on Monday April 07, 2014 @07:47PM (#46689479) Journal

        That is one of the few mistakes our founders made. Allowing the court to ignore cases.

        Obviously you didn't read the article, nor understand the summary.

        The court did not ignore the case. There is a procedure. It starts at the circuit court. Then it goes through the appeals court, usually first with panel of 3, then the full appeals court. The SCOTUS is the final level of appeals.

        The process works as a vetting and refining system. The SCOTUS only gets involved in situations where different appeals courts have used differing standards or when there are certain controversial or seemingly contradictory situations. The district judge wanted to get around the procedures. It is very rarely successful except in cases where urgency is required and the implications are severe, such as the 'hanging chads' controversy. The court disagreed, wanting the case to go through the normal process.

        As with every issue that is a political hot topic, the SCOTUS will tend to wait to give congress a chance to address this before ruling. Often when Congress amends the law while a case is in progress, the appeal will simply remand it back to the district court with an order to follow the revised law rather than the old law.

        As of now, in the DC court, his initial ruling (that the bulk collection is unconstitutional) still stands, even though he put in a stay (delay before carrying out the order) in order to allow for appeals. If he felt so strongly he could have not accepted the stay, which would mean the government would need to implement the order immediately and the feds would have needed to petition for an emergency stay from a higher court.

        Right now the ruling is that the collection is unlawful. With the appeal denied so far, that decision stands. That is what we want, so don't complain about it.

        • by nurb432 (527695)

          Obviously you didn't read the article

          No, and i should not need to. if i do, then why bother having a news aggregation page with summaries in the first place?

          • by oraclese (1039520)

            Obviously you didn't read the article

            No, and i should not need to. if i do, then why bother having a news aggregation page with summaries in the first place?

            You must be new here...

          • Well, I got it from the summary.

            The plaintiffs had bypassed the federal appeals court and applied directly to the high court, given Judge Leon's admission that the case had significant national security interests at stake. The Supreme Court's decision not to rule on the case means that an appeal will need to be submitted to the federal appeals court as per protocol,

        • I would rather that they take it straight to the Supreme Court and settle the issue rather than dragging it out for another 4 years through appeals.

          That way, I know right away whether anyone on the Supreme Court actually gives a shit about the Constitution.

      • You do realize there were almost 2 million federal cases last year? Even if the Supreme Court was in session 24/7 for the entire years, they'd have to hear arguments, rule, and write an opinion every 20 seconds to avoid ignoring any of them.

      • That is one of the few mistakes our founders made.

        Another was to assume that subsequent political leaders would have the same personal integrity as they did and would strive to uphold the basic principles of the Constitution.

        • by dryeo (100693)

          That is one of the few mistakes our founders made.

          Another was to assume that subsequent political leaders would have the same personal integrity as they did and would strive to uphold the basic principles of the Constitution.

          The Constitution was being ignored almost before the ink was dry on the Bill of Rights with even Jefferson prosecuting people with laws that he thought unconstitutional. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Not really no.

      By declining to take up the matter they can do so with comment (basically saying why they don't think it belongs) or they can say nothing and let lower court rulings stand.

      They are the last arbiters of the constitution, not the first, if they agree completely with a lower courts interpretation then they don't need to say anything, the lower court stands.

      Imagine this scenario. The government of a US state passes a law that prohibits carrying signs for protesting. Someone gets arrested, goes t

      • by dryeo (100693)

        In Canada sometimes the government will ask the Supreme Court for an opinion on the Constitutionality of a law before it gets signed. Much better then passing laws of questionable constitutionality and letting people suffer until it works its way up the chain of appeals courts.

        • Can they not ask some legal scholars for opinion rather than the Supreme Court? It seems weird to ask a court if something is legal or not before you do it. You ask a lawyer.

          • by dryeo (100693)

            The Supreme Court is the final arbitrator of what is constitutional so who better to give an opinion? The alternative is to pass the law, people get charged, go to court with all the hassles, perhaps get convicted and go to jail, eventually someone can afford the legal costs of multiple appeals until the law is thrown out, perhaps by a Provincial Supreme Court or Court of Appeals with the Supreme Court declining to hear the case or perhaps by the Supreme Court itself.
            There are also issues of Federal vs Prov

          • I think you're asking the wrong question. Why wouldn't you use the Supreme Court? They're the body that's ultimately in charge of deciding whether it's constitutional or not. What's bizarre is choosing to use a third-party lawyer arbitrarily. Just so that you can say you didn't use the Supreme Court?

            The US has determined the their constitution forbids federal courts from issuing advisory opinions. Some states do the same as Canada though with their state supreme courts.

          • In most countries there's a method the government can use to find out if a proposal it wants to enact is Constitutional before it gets passed. In many countries there's actually a specific Court, completely separate from the regular Court system. In others they just ask the Supreme Court. The Canadians have been doing this since 1875.

            This looks really weird to Americans, but OTOH it would have been really nice if instead of arguing for two years about whether ObamaCare was Constitutional Pelosi could just h

            • by dryeo (100693)

              In most countries there's a method the government can use to find out if a proposal it wants to enact is Constitutional before it gets passed. In many countries there's actually a specific Court, completely separate from the regular Court system. In others they just ask the Supreme Court. The Canadians have been doing this since 1875.

              Not quite for Canada as up until 1949 ('33 for criminal cases) it was possible to appeal to the King (actually the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J... [wikipedia.org]

        • There's actually a specific legal provision for that. Canadian governments can ask Courts for "Advisory opinions" on whether a particular law is Constitutional. These cases are also called "reference questions."

          Since we invented Judicial Review basically by accident (the Founders were convinced the natural give-and-take of government would keep everyone Constitutional, and therefore didn't include any Constitutional provisions for dealing with what happens when somebody says the Constitution was violated),

    • by kwbauer (1677400)

      They only declined to expedite the case by having it skip the normal appeals process; they did not decline to hear it at all. And, as the case now stands, a decline to hear or reverse the lower court means that the NSA loses as that is what the lower court decided.

      You see, sometimes declining to hear is just a way of saying the outcome is so obvious and the lower courts already got it right so stop wasting our time.

    • by NotDrWho (3543773)

      Seems like the US needs a Constitutional Court who rule on nothing else but constitutional matters, and cannot decline.

      And confiscate the rubber stamp of any judge appointed to it.

  • Damages (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday April 07, 2014 @06:58PM (#46689059) Journal

    Here's another article I read today
    http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/03/27/obamas-nsa-reform-package-may-hamstring-privacy-lawsuits [usnews.com]

    Conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, unlike other challengers, seeks damages from Verizon and U.S. officials â" which may keep his two cases alive, experts say. Cases brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., do not seek damages.

    The request for past damages means that his lawsuit can't be mooted by legislative changes.
    All the other lawsuits are only asking for injuctions, and Congress can make them go away.

  • Someone needs to bring a suit through the lower Federal courts and the appellate level. That's how to have a chance of getting a Supreme Court review.

    I know very little with regards to this stuff, only that the Supreme Court rarely hears cases directly (the Bush Jr./Gore election was one time that I know of).

    • If you read the summary in the /. post that you commented on, you would have seen that someone did bring the suit before a lower court. The lower court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional, but stayed their judgement on appeal as they knew it would be appealed. That being said, usually when the Supreme Court denies hearing a case, it means that the last ruling was the correct ruling. However, in this case, the plaintiffs simply need to appeal to the full appellate court.
      • by turp182 (1020263)

        Read the summary! What is this? Slashdot?

        I gleaned over the summary, noticing the lack of a full appeal. That's what was missing in my opinion (IANAL opinion, call it one cent...) and the only thing I wanted to raise attention to.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      A few different groups tried that with very skilled lawyers and had some success.
      http://www.freedomwatchusa.org... [freedomwatchusa.org]
      The problem now is a new legal limbo - you can have all the Fourth Amendment you want but NSA color of law efforts have ensured your US domestic/international network use fair game.
      Your legal protections cannot be weakened, removed and still stand but the NSA seems to have ensured no timely legal remedy from a vast long term illegal domestic surveillance network.
      Many people saw a vast ill
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 07, 2014 @06:59PM (#46689071)

    Ya want to see some action here? The plaintiffs should go back to judge Leon asking him to lift his stay. Since the Supreme's clearly don't view this as some kind of 'crisis' situation that needed their attention it is therefore logical that it isn't important enough to require a stay of the original ruling. If Leon lifted his stay the defendants would be appealing & moving the case forward far faster than the plaintiffs would.

    • by Frobnicator (565869) on Monday April 07, 2014 @08:09PM (#46689623) Journal

      That is what the judge wrote in his order. The court order makes for some intense reading compared to most rulings.

      The last paragraph in his order is about as strict as he could word it: I hereby give the Government fair notice that should my ruling be upheld, this order will go into effect forthwith. Accordingly, I fully expect that during the appellate process, which will consume at least the next six months, the Government will take whatever steps necessary to comply with this order when, and if, it is upheld. Suffice it to say, requesting further time to comply with this order months from now will not be well received and could result in collateral sanctions. /Signed/ RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge.

      If he removed the stay he would need to allow the government time to implement the changes. This way the clock is already ticking.

  • Since the 4th is out the window, they cannot have the 16th without violating the 13th. Then again it has to be taken as a whole or the contract of the 'governed' is void.

  • I guess we now know for sure who holds the real power in the US now that the supreme court judges are too cowardly to do their god damned jobs. Are they too busy hearing other cases? What case could be more pressing that allegations of illegal mass surveillance? 300 million victims, and some cowards in robes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      They just need more time for their corporate puppetmasters to tell them what to do.. that's all.

      • No they're just delayed with having new rubber stamps made.

      • by NoKaOi (1415755)

        They just need more time for their corporate puppetmasters to tell them what to do.. that's all.

        No, they are doing exactly what their puppet masters want them to do. If they heard the case then they'd have to rule and something might change, not to mention they'd have a really hard time writing an opinion that says the surveillance in question doesn't violate the constitution. Refusing to hear the case means that the status quo is maintained for a while longer.

    • Re:Utterly gutless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HBI (604924) <kparadine AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 07, 2014 @07:18PM (#46689219) Homepage Journal

      Or maybe they think that a decision isn't required and the lower courts can solve this. Generally, this would mean either the issue isn't important enough for them, the matter is settled law or the issue has been insufficiently litigated at a lower level. We can rule out the first two. Doesn't mean they won't come back for a bite at it if it is not resolved.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by NoKaOi (1415755)

        FTA:

        That's because the Supreme Court has taken cases before they went to the federal appellate level. Those disputes, which seemingly pale in comparison to the NSA surveillance at issue, involved the constitutionality of the US Sentencing Commission, the value of a floundering railroad, a coal strike, and the eviction of an Ohio tenant from a housing rental.

        So pretty much, they say they take things that seem to have an immediacy. The thing is, not only does this affect everyone with a phone or Internet access, but it is affecting all of us right now. This is not a question over whether or not what the NSA was doing in the past violated the constitution, but that what they are doing right now violates the constitution. Thus providing an example that what they choose to allow to bypass the lower courts has nothing to do with importance, immediacy, or publ

        • This is not a question over whether or not what the NSA was doing in the past violated the constitution, but that what they are doing right now violates the constitution.

          The question is whether or not there is a reason that a final ruling has to be given right now.

          How is what the NSA is doing affecting you right now, such that they have to stop immediately? How will a, say, 1 year delay affect you? During that year, are you likely to be deprived of your life? Liberty? A large amount of money?

          No? Then it's probably worthwhile to let the system work the way it was intended.

          • by lonOtter (3587393)

            How is what the NSA is doing affecting you right now, such that they have to stop immediately?

            They're responsible for egregiously violating nearly everyone's rights and the highest law of the land, something that they continue to make worse with each passing day. I can think of nothing more in need of a quick response.

            You'd agree, if you cared at all about fundamental liberties.

            • by HBI (604924)

              You're just impatient and young.

              Truth. Much worse things have happened than NSA spying. Breaking the US system of laws to solve this one problem is stupid and shortsighted.

              • by lonOtter (3587393)

                You're just impatient and young.

                Assumptions completely without merit.

                Truth. Much worse things have happened than NSA spying.

                Just because X is worse than Y doesn't mean Y isn't bad.

                Breaking the US system of laws to solve this one problem is stupid and shortsighted.

                As the poster above has shown, solving this problem wouldn't break a damn thing, as the court has been known to make exceptions.

                This should be an exception, because this sort of thing violates nearly everyone's fundamental liberties, and the constitution itself.

                • by lonOtter (3587393)

                  As for being impatient... I take it that that means you do not care that the NSA is violating nearly everyone's fundamental liberties and the constitution each and every day? If anyone isn't "impatient" about solving this problem, they're damn fools.

                  • by HBI (604924)

                    So a totalitarian outcome would be just fine, as long as the NSA stops spying?

                    Now you're just being an idiot.

  • The United States Government is in breach of contract with its citizens. Where's the effin accountability?!!
  • You whack the ball back and forth over the net, but you gotta win by two: Advantage, Deuce, Advantage Deuce, Game,. Set, Tie Breaker, Match. Its both the rules of the game and the game of the rules at the very same time. So its not, not just a game. Its not not the law.
  • by meerling (1487879) on Monday April 07, 2014 @07:45PM (#46689457)
    "The provision allowing the bulk collection, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expires June 1, 2015."
    Yeah, right. They'll extend it indefinitely, it will never 'expire'. (Just like all the the other things that were supposed to 'expire'.)
  • why would search without a warrant be unconstitutional?
    • by PortHaven (242123)

      Go read the 4th Amendment please.

      U.S. CONSTITUTION : AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION : ARTICLE IV

      *"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
      and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
      violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported
      by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
      searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

  • Marbury v Madison [wikipedia.org] was pulled out of the air from the Constitution to define the Judicial branch's power.

    So, what is the use of the Supreme Court these days? Certainly Roberts is no Marshall, instead he seems a throwback the original ineffectiveness of the Court.

    Just as the Court was extremely courageous in deciding Korematsu [wikipedia.org] only once the war was over, the Supremes appear to wish to sit this one out.

    I'd love to hear O'Conners', Thomas', and Scalia's opinions of this milque toast decision.
    • Sandra Day O'Connor hasn't been on the Supreme Court for eight years now. That glorified shitstain Sam Alito replaced her. While it would certainly be interesting to hear her opinion of the case, such opinion would carry no weight whatsoever.

  • This doesn't really mean anything, and it would be surprising if SCOTUS actually did hear it now. The supreme court just basically said this needs to work its way through the normal appeals process. This might actually be better, since if you want to set a good and lasting precedent you should follow EVERY procedure in the most precedential way. Don't read too much into this decision.

Optimism is the content of small men in high places. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack Up"

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