Clapper v. Amnesty

Courts Won’t Be Reviewing Legality of Counterterrorism Programs Anytime Soon

By a 5-4 party line vote, SCOTUS denied standing in Amnesty v. Clapper today.

The majority opinion, written by Sam Alito, emphasizes separation of power.

The law of Article III standing, which is built on separation-of-powers principles, serves to prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the political branches.

[snip]

In keeping with the purpose of this doctrine, “[o]ur standing inquiry has been especially rigorous when reaching the merits of the dispute would force us to decide whether an action taken by one of the other two branches of the Federal Government was unconstitutional.”

[snip]

and we have often found a lack of standing in cases in which the Judiciary has been requested to review actions of the political branches in the fields of intelligence gathering and foreign affairs,

It uses a high standard for the imminence of harm, including what I consider a highly ironic passage, considering the Administration’s own standards for imminence.

“Although imminence is concededly a somewhat elastic concept, it cannot be stretched beyond its purpose, which is to ensure that the alleged injury is not too speculative for Article III purposes—that the injury is certainly impending.” Id., at 565, n. 2 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, we have repeatedly reiterated that “threatened injury must be certainly impending to constitute injury in fact,” and that “[a]llegations of possible future injury” are not sufficient.

It even says it can’t use in camera review in this case, because doing so would establish a precedent terrorists could use to find out whether they’re being wiretapped.

It was suggested at oral argument that the Government could help resolve the standing inquiry by disclosing to a court, perhaps through an in camera proceeding, (1) whether it is intercepting respondents’ communications and (2) what targeting or minimization procedures it is using. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 13–14, 44, 56. This suggestion is puzzling. As an initial matter, it is respondents’ burden to prove their standing by pointing to specific facts, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 561 (1992), not the Government’s burden to disprove standing by revealing details of its surveillance priorities. Moreover, this type of hypothetical disclosure proceeding would allow a terrorist (or his attorney) to determine whether he is currently under U. S. surveillance simply by filing a lawsuit challenging the Government’s surveillance program. Even if the terrorist’s attorney were to comply with a protective order prohibiting him from sharing the Government’s disclosures with his client, the court’s postdisclosure decision about whether to dismiss the suit for lack of standing would surely signal to the terrorist whether his name was on the list of surveillance targets.

Ultimately, though, it said the plaintiff’s fears were too speculative to amount to standing.

It does so by ignoring — and indeed, misrepresenting — the details presented about what is new in this program. Here’s how Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, describes them.

The addition of §1881a in 2008 changed this prior law in three important ways. First, it eliminated the require­ ment that the Government describe to the court each specific target and identify each facility at which its sur­ veillance would be directed, thus permitting surveillance on a programmatic, not necessarily individualized, basis. §1881a(g). Second, it eliminated the requirement that a target be a “foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” Ibid. Third, it diminished the court’s authority to insist upon, and eliminated its authority to supervise, instance-specific privacy-intrusion minimization procedures (though the Government still must use court-approved general minimization procedures). §1881a(e).

By contrast, Alito claims the new program only allows the government to target individuals (h/t Julian Sanchez who first pointed this out).

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SCOTUS Cert Grant In Clapper Takes Key 9th Circuit Cases Hostage

Marcy noted briefly Monday morning, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Clapper v. Amnesty International:

SCOTUS did, however, grant cert to Clapper v. Amnesty, which I wrote about here and here. On its face, Clapper is just about the FISA Amendments Act. But it also has implications for wiretap exceptions–and, I’ve argued–data mining exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. In any case, SCOTUS seems interested in reversing the 2nd Circuit opinion, which had granted standing to people whose work had been chilled by the passage of the FAA. Also, as I hope to note further today, SCOTUS’ Clapper decision may also impact the Hedges v. Obama ruling from last week.

As Marcy indicated, there is nothing good afoot from SCOTUS taking cert in Clapper; if they wanted to leave the very nice decision of the 2nd Circuit intact, they simply leave it intact and don’t grant review. Oh, and, yes, Marcy is quite right, it’s a very safe bet that Clapper will “impact” the also very nice recent decision in Hedges, which is, itself, headed with a bullet to the 2nd Circuit.

There was, of course, much discussion of the significance of the Clapper cert grant yesterday on Twitter; one of the best of which was between Marcy, Lawfare’s Steve Vladeck and, to a lesser extent, me. To make a long story a little shorter, I said (here and here):

See, and I HATE saying this, I think Kennedy will do just that+then same 5 will kill al-Haramain once it gets to SCOTUS and then they will have capped the Bush wiretapping well completely and closed off standing significantly for the future.

Yikes, I did not contemplate just how true this statement was; the Clapper cert grant has already had a far deeper and more pernicious effect than even I suspected. This morning, in a move I do not believe anybody else has caught on to yet, the 9th Circuit quietly removed both al-Haramain and the CCR case encaptioned In Re: NSA Telecommunications Litigation/CCR v. Obama from the oral argument calendar that has long been set for June 1 in the old 9th Circuit Pasadena courthouse. The orders for both al-Haramain and CCR are identical, here is the language from the al-Haramain one:

Argument in this case scheduled for June 1, 2012 in Pasadena, California, is vacated pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l, No. 11- 1025. The court may order supplemental briefing following the Supreme Court’s decision. Oral argument will be rescheduled.

Whoa. This is extremely significant, and extremely unfortunate. Also fairly inexplicable. Entering the order for CCR makes some sense, since it involves the same “fear of surveillance” standing issue as is at issue in Clapper; but doing it for al-Haramain makes no sense whatsoever, because al-Haramain is an “actual” surveillance standing case.

There simply is no issue of the claimed, putative, standing concern that permeates Clapper and CCR. Well, not unless the 9th Circuit panel thinks the Supreme Court might speak more broadly, and expand the parameters wildly, in Clapper just as they did in Citizens United. That would be a pretty ugly path for the Supreme beings to follow; but, apparently, not just a cynical bet on my part, but also a bet the 9th Circuit immediately placed as well.

To be fair, even positive forward thinking players, like Steve Vladeck, thought the lower courts might be copacetic, or that the Supremes might comply. Maybe not so much. I know, shocking. Here is a glimpse, through Vladeck, of the situation:

But at a more fundamental level, there’s one more point worth making: Readers are likely familiar with Alex Bickel’s Passive Virtues, and his thesis that, especially on such sensitive questions where constitutional rights intersect with national security, courts might do best to rely on justiciability doctrines to duck the issue—and to thereby avoid passing upon the merits one way or the other. [Think Joshua at the end of WarGames: "The only winning move is not to play."] And at first blush, this looks like the perfect case for Bickel’s thesis, given the implications in either direction on the merits: recognizing a foreign intelligence surveillance exception and thereby endorsing such sweeping, warrantless interceptions of previously protected communications vs. removing this particular club from the government’s bag…

And yet, the foreign intelligence surveillance exception only exists because it has already been recognized by a circuit-level federal court, to wit, the FISA Court of Review. Whether the passive virtues might otherwise justify judicial sidestepping in such a contentious case, the fact of the matter is that this is a problem largely (albeit not entirely, thanks to the FISA Amendments Act) of the courts‘ making. To duck at this stage would be to let the FISA Court of Review—the judges of which are selected by the Chief Justice—have the last word on such a momentous question of constitutional law. In my view, at least, that would be unfortunate, and it’s certainly not what Bickel meant…

Back to al-Haramain and the effects in the 9th Circuit. Here is the latest, taken from the Motion for Reconsideration filed late yesterday by al-Haramain, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor:

The question presented in Clapper is thus wholly unrelated to the issues presented on the defendants’ appeal in the present case. The Supreme Court’s decision in Clapper will have no effect on the disposition of the present case. Thus, there is no reason to delay the adjudication of this appeal pending the decision in Clapper, which would only add another year or more to the six-plus years that this case has been in litigation.

It makes sense for the Court to have vacated the oral argument date for Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama, No. 11-15956, which involves theories of Article III standing similar to those in Clapper. It does not, however, make sense in the present case, where Article III standing is based on proof of actual past surveillance rather than the fear of future surveillance and expenditures to protect communications asserted in Clapper.

Yes, that is exactly correct.

And, therein, resides the problem with Vladeck’s interpretation of what is going on with the Clapper case. Steve undersold, severely, just how problematic Clapper is. Both the discussion herein, and the knee jerk action of the 9th Circuit, the alleged liberal scourge of Democratic Federal Appellate Courts, demonstrate how critical this all is and why Clapper is so important.

Clapper has not only consumed its own oxygen, it has consumed that of independent, and important, nee critical, elements of the only reductive cases there are left in the United States judicial system in regards to these ends. That would be, at an irreducible minimum, al-Haramain in the 9th Circuit.

If you have forgotten about al-Haramain, and the proceedings that took place in the inestimable Vaughn Walker’s, court, here it is. Of all the attempts to attack the Bush/Cheney wiretapping crimes, al-Haramain is the only court case that, due to its unique circumstances, has been successful. It alone stands for the proposition that mass crimes were, in fact, committed. al-Haramain had a tough enough road ahead of it on its own, the road has become all the more treacherous now because of Clapper.

The 9th Circuit should grant the motion for reconsideration and reinstate al-Haramain on the oral argument calendar, but that is quite likely a longshot at this point. Expect the DOJ to file a very aggressive response, they are undoubtedly jumping for joy at this stroke of good fortune and will strive to protect it.

SCOTUS Grants Clapper Cert, Stalls on Detainee Cases

SCOTUS has just listed orders from last week’s conference, where they had been discussing the handful of Gitmo cases that had petitions for cert pending. It has relisted the detainee cases, which suggests they may need a week or more to sort through their decision.

SCOTUS did, however, grant cert to Clapper v. Amnesty, which I wrote about here and here. On its face, Clapper is just about the FISA Amendments Act. But it also has implications for wiretap exceptions–and, I’ve argued–data mining exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. In any case, SCOTUS seems interested in reversing the 2nd Circuit opinion, which had granted standing to people whose work had been chilled by the passage of the FAA. Also, as I hope to note further today, SCOTUS’ Clapper decision may also impact the Hedges v. Obama ruling from last week.

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