July 10, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan argued in federal
court today that the National Security Agency should be held accountable for
illegally monitoring the phone calls and e-mails of millions of Americans
"The president does not have the authority to
decide which laws he will or will not follow," said ACLU Associate Legal
Director Ann Beeson, who argued today's case before Judge Anna Diggs Taylor.
"The courts have repeatedly held that the war on terror is not a blank check to
trash the rule of law and the fundamental rights that are the cornerstones of
Throughout today's hearing, Beeson referenced the
recent Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
, which reaffirmed that the
president does not have unlimited authority to act without Congressional
approval during its "war on terror." The ACLU argues that the Bush
administration violated separation of powers principles by encroaching on
Congress' power to regulate the president's authority to spy on Americans. The
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed by Congress in 1978,
requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant before engaging in electronic
surveillance of Americans.
The federal government has invoked a
legal doctrine known as the "state secrets privilege" in an attempt to dismiss
the ACLU lawsuit and others challenging the NSA's warrantless surveillance
program. However, the ACLU said that the government cannot claim that the case
involves state secrets because it has already acknowledged and defended the
spying program to the public. In fact, on January 19, the Justice Department
issued a 40-page White Paper discussing in detail its legal defenses and
justifications for the NSA program. President Bush and Vice President Cheney
have discussed and promoted the program numerous times at news conferences and
other public events.
The ACLU argued that the government is more
concerned with avoiding judicial review than protecting state secrets.
"This administration wants to turn the state secrets privilege
into an all-purpose weapon the government can use to cover up its own illegal
activities," said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan.
"Our security is at risk when the government tries to erode the system of checks
and balances established by America's founders."
History has shown
that the state secrets privilege has been used illegitimately to cover up
wrongdoing. In the 1953 case, United States v. Reynolds, the government had
claimed that disclosing a military flight accident report would jeopardize
secret military equipment and harm national security. Nearly 50 years later, in
2004, the truth came out: the accident report contained no state secrets, but
instead confirmed that the cause of the crash was faulty maintenance of the B-29
The ACLU filed its lawsuit in January against the NSA in
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, on behalf of a group of
prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations
who frequently communicate by phone and e-mail with people in the Middle East.
The plaintiffs say the NSA program is disrupting their ability to talk with
sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship and engage in advocacy. The ACLU
charges that the NSA program violates Americans' rights to free speech and
privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments of the
In a related case, the ACLU of Illinois will appear
in federal court in Chicago on Thursday, July 13, to present arguments in its
legal challenge to AT&T's alleged participation in the NSA program. Chicago
author Studs Terkel and prominent leaders in the medical, legal, political and
faith communities joined the lawsuit charging that AT&T violated their
privacy by secretly sharing the telephone records of millions of Americans with
The Michigan case is ACLU v. NSA
, Docket No. 06-10204.
Attorneys in the case are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer, Melissa Goodman and Scott
Michelman of the national ACLU, and Kary Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU
of Michigan. The Illinois case is Terkel v. AT&T
, Docket No.
More information on the lawsuits, including legal
documents, fact sheets and statements from the plaintiffs, is online at www.aclu.org/nsaspying