U.S. News

Top court won't review Bush domestic spying case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down a legal challenge to the warrantless domestic spying program President George W. Bush created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Bush boards Air Force One at Kigali International airport, February 19, 2008. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked the justices to hear the case after a lower court ruled the ACLU and other groups and individuals that sued the government had no legal right to do so because they could not prove they had been affected by the program.

The civil liberties group also asked the nation’s highest court to make clear that Bush does not have the power under the U.S. Constitution to engage in intelligence surveillance within the United States that Congress has expressly prohibited.

“It’s very disturbing that the president’s actions will not be reviewed by the Supreme Court,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Allowing the executive branch to police itself flies in the face of the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

Bush authorized the program to monitor international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining a court warrant. The program’s disclosure in December 2005 caused a political uproar among Democrats, some Republicans and civil liberties activists.

The administration abandoned the program about a year ago, putting it under the surveillance court that Congress created more than 30 years ago.

Steven Shapiro, the ACLU’s legal director, expressed disappointment that the high court refused to review the case.

“Today’s action says nothing about the case’s merits and does not suggest in any way an endorsement of the lower court’s decision. The court’s unwillingness to act makes it even more important that Congress insist on legislative safeguards that will protect civil liberties without jeopardizing national security,” he said.

The journalists, scholars, attorneys and national advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit said the illegal surveillance had disrupted their ability to communicate with sources and clients.

A U.S. appeals court based in Cincinnati dismissed the case because the plaintiffs could not state with certainty they had been wiretapped by the government’s National Security Agency.

Administration lawyers opposed the appeal and said further review by the Supreme Court was unwarranted.

The Supreme Court sided with the administration and rejected the appeal without any comment.

Reporting by James Vicini, editing by Lori Santos