SCOTUS takes a pass on NSA - San Diego, California Talk Radio Station - AM 760 KFMB

SCOTUS takes a pass on NSA

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The Supreme Court on Monday passed up an opportunity to weigh in on the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's collection of a massive database containing information on virtually every telephone call made to, from or within the United States.

The justices' action makes it unlikely the high court will provide a definitive answer on the question during its current term.

Acting without comment or indication of dissent on Monday, the justices turned down a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center seeking to have the Supreme Court perform a direct review of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order authorizing the call-tracking program under the PATRIOT Act—a controversial anti-terrorism statute passed a few weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The EPIC petition sought a form of review called "mandamus," which is granted by the court even more rarely than its typical cases known as "petitions for certiorari." The Obama administration argued in a brief filed last month that the direct review was not legally appropriate.

The surveillance issue could reach the high court through a variety of other vehicles. The Justice Department pointed to three civil lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and conservative legal activist Larry Klayman.

In addition to the civil lawsuits, the government has disclosed the use of the NSA call-tracking database in at least two criminal cases. The defendants in those cases could use their criminal appeals to pursue constitutional challenges to the surveillance program, with those challenges also having the potential to reach the Supreme Court.

In its last term, the Supreme Court granted review to a case challenging federal government surveillance programs. In February of this year, the justices ruled, 5-4, that a collection of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists couldn't proceed with a lawsuit because they lacked enough proof to demonstrate that they'd been affected by the surveillance or would be in the future.

However, that case came before former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the call-tracking program and President Barack Obama officially declassified the program's existence, developments which triggered a fresh round of lawsuits.

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