A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments of 2008 was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by four affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Joining as plaintiffs in the action was Tom Campbell, a former U.S. Congressman who represented a portion of Silicon Valley for five terms and who recently stepped down as dean of Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, as well as other names like Chicago journalist Studs Terkel; Robert Scheer, a columnist and professor at the University of Southern California who edits the online magazine Truthdig; and actor Richard Belzer.
The legislation they object to mandates that courts dismiss any cases against AT&T or other telecommunications companies if the Attorney General chooses to file a secret certification attesting that the executive branch told the phone companies that the surveillance was lawful, according to a release put out today by the ACLU. Under the immunity provisions, the federal court does not determine whether the spying was in fact legal, but only that the representation of legality was made by the executive branch.
“Under our constitutional system, Congress and the Executive Branch do not determine whether actions taken by the Executive violate basic constitutional rights,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and co-lead counsel for the cases combined in the San Francisco court. “Since Marbury v. Madison, we have recognized that only a court can determine the meaning of the Constitution – it is simply not a power granted to the Congress and the President.”
The chart at the top is from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which features this quote from Justice Louis Brandeis prominently on its Web site: “The right to be left alone — the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people.”