The Supreme Court ruled today that a group of lawyers, journalists and human rights researchers do not have the legal right to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law that expands the government’s authority to conduct secret electronic surveillance of international calls and communications.
In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito the Court said opponents of the law who brought the suit “cannot demonstrate that the future injury they purportedly fear is certainly impending and because they cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation for non-imminent harm.”
“It’s a disturbing decision,” ACLU layer Jameel Jaffer said in a statement today after the release of the opinion. Jaffer, who is representing the groups, had argued that the law violates the privacy and free speech rights of his clients who are in contact with potential targets of government surveillance.
“This ruling insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”
But the Court agreed with the government and found that the groups couldn’t challenge the law because they had not demonstrated that they would be harmed by it. In court, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said that the secret program targets only those people “reasonably believed” to be overseas and it is not meant to intentionally target a person in the United States.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in dissent for himself and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg, said that the issue of “standing” depends upon the likelihood that the Government, under the law, will harm the groups by intercepting at least some of their private, telephonic or email conversation.
“In my view, ‘Breyer wrote, “this harm is not ‘speculative’”.
“While I express no view on the merits of the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims, I do believe that at least some of the plaintiffs have standing to make those claims.”