The decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International did not address the constitutionality of the warrantless wiretapping program . . .
That’s how you know we’re in for a treat, right, kids? A Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case over warrantless wiretapping that doesn’t actually say much about warrantless wiretapping. But before you can lose it, the parties challenging the wiretap program in this case did have serious flaws in their argument, so the ruling to block their lawsuit against the government isn’t entirely surprising. And if it sparks a real challenge to the wiretap, or at least its lack of transparency, it’ll all come out even.
The challenging parties include Amnesty International USA, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a number of journalists. They’re concerned that their international communications are being intercepted through the wiretap, under whose guidelines one party to a communication must be believed to be (my emphasis) outside the U.S. They argued that this concern was harming them by all but forcing them to make trips overseas to have conversations they would otherwise have over the phone or by e-mail.
Notice that they haven’t actually proven that their communications were being intercepted. SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that this was necessary to let the suit proceed, along with a demonstration that the costs of those overseas trips counted as “harm,” also absent. Amnesty et al. argued that there was no way to prove the existence of any intercepts; the SCOTUS minority agreed that this was reason not to block the suit. However, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that if a terror suspect was charged on the basis of information picked up through wiretapping, the suspect’s lawyer would have a better case against it.
All this in mind, there are a couple of grounds on which someone might sue to strike down the wiretap altogether:
- It constitutes a program of unreasonable searches, unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.
- It denies liberty (from said searches) without warrants, unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.
- The Bush administration’s establishment of this program before bringing it before Congress violates the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I, section 8, clause 18, which stipulates that Congress shall have the power to make laws needed to execute the foregoing powers of the section, of which “provid[ing] for the common Defence” and “to make Rules for the Government” are two.
Of course, we could skip the lawsuits and have President Obama make good on his early campaign promise to boost government transparency and go in a different direction on counter-terrorism than his predecessor.