Why the NSA ruling could backfire into a court disaster we’ll regret for decades

Steven Rosenfeld writes: Pundits across the political left should be careful about heaping too much praise on U.S. District Judge Richard Leon for this week’s dramatic ruling that the National Security Agency’s electronic dragnet capturing Americans’ online activities is “significantly likely” to be unconstitutional, even though it is a powerful rebuke to America’s spymasters.

That’s because Leon, a longtime Republican warrior, is as much of a legal loudmouth and rightwing activist judge as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. More importantly, his elbows-out 68-page opinion is not going to be the last word on the government’s data mining. Leon’s ruling is one of several NSA-related suits moving through the federal courts, including rulings that have reached the opposite conclusion.

“It should be noted that last month Judge Jeffrey Miller of the Southern District of California found the NSA business records program to be constitutional,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, said Tuesday. “Leon’s opinion also differs from those of at least 15 separate federal district court judges… Only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program.”

These conflicts will likely trigger a review by the Supreme Court, where the conservative majority already has sanctioned NSA electronic eavesdropping and is known for elevating government searchs over individual rights. In other words, Leon’s rebuke may help put the issue in front of a court majority that is poised to codify national security over privacy rights. [Continue reading…]

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