The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a writ of mandamus to SCOTUS to overturn the Section 215 order turning over all of Verizon’s call records to the NSA.
Let me be clear: this is a moon shot. I’m doubtful it’ll work. A really helpful post at SCOTUSblog on the effort emphasizes how unusual this is.
EPIC’s move is the boldest of a number of legal challenges to NSA that have been filed around the country by privacy defenders in the wake of Snowden’s public disclosure of some of the details of NSA surveillance. EPIC filed under a Supreme Court rule that permits “extraordinary” filings directly in the Supreme Court, without first making a trip through a lower court, when “exceptional circumstances warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary powers” and an adequate remedy cannot be obtained “from any other court.” The history of such Rule 20 requests shows that few are granted. The Court’s own rules say that the power to grant such pleas is “sparingly exercised.”
All that said, IMO the filing is very well crafted, and worth reading with attention.
Name check the key Justices
I first got sucked in by the way the introduction invokes two recent cases on these issues.
The records acquired by the NSA under this Order detail the daily activities, interactions, personal and business relationships, religious and political affiliations, and other intimate details of millions of Americans. “Awareness that the Government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse.” United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945, 956 (2012) (Sotomayor, J., concurring). As Justice Breyer has recently noted, “the Government has the capacity to conduct electronic surveillance of the kind at issue.” Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l, USA, 133 S.Ct. 1138, 1158- 59 (2013) (citing, inter alia, Priest & Arkin, A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control, Wash. Post, July 19, 2010, at A1 (reporting that the NSA collects 1.7 billion e-mails, telephone calls and other types of communications daily)). And because the NSA sweeps up judicial and Congressional communications, it inappropriately arrogates exceptional power to the Executive Branch.
Sotomayor is the one Justice who “gets” the implications of this dragnet; her opinion in Jones summarized where an ideal SCOTUS would be on these issues. If this is going to work Sotomayor is going to need to hold the hands of the other Justices and walk them through this risk. And Breyer is a key swing, a vote likely to support law and order without a good argument to the contrary.
And notice the way EPIC slipped in the separation of powers argument right there?
The motion also name checks two more crucial Justices, Republicans who have supported civil liberties issues on key cases in the past. Most importantly, it invokes Scalia’s recent warning against a panopticon in Maryland v. King (the DNA case).
Even admirable ends do not justify the creation of a panopticon. See Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1958, 1989 (2013) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (“Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective, but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless lawenforcement searches.”).