A federal judge in San Francisco heard another round of arguments
today on the government's claim that lawsuits challenging warrantless
wiretapping must be dismissed to protect national security.
Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Vaughn to
dismiss a lawsuit filed by four New York residents against President
Bush as well as several suits filed by citizens and the American
Civil Liberties Union against Verizon Communications Inc.
The cases are among about 45 lawsuits nationwide that have been
consolidated in Walker's court. Most were filed against telecommunications
companies and claim the companies illegally aided the National
Security Agency in warrantless surveillance of telephone calls
and e-mails. Some were filed against Bush and administration officials.
Previously, Walker last year refused to dismiss the lead case,
filed against AT&T Corp. in January 2006 by four Californians.
The Justice Department has appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in San Francisco
two weeks ago and will issue a written ruling at a later date.
Walker said, "A lot of these arguments have a familiar ring
to them," and suggested that it might make sense to wait
until the appeals court rules on the government's claim that allowing
the lawsuits to proceed would jeopardize national security.
But plaintiffs in the lawsuit say their arguments against dismissal
have been strengthened because Bush administration officials and
members of Congress recently revealed more details about the program.
Last week, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell told
the El Paso Times newspaper that telecommunications companies
"had assisted us" in alleged intelligence activities
and said, "If you're going to get access, you've got to have
McConnell had previously submitted a sworn statement to the court
saying that it would cause "exceptionally grave harm to the
national security" to confirm or deny that telecommunications
companies had aided the government.
Attorney Ilan Maazel, representing the New York plaintiffs, told
Walker today, "The program is essentially not secret."
But Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino argued that
McConnell didn't reveal the names of any telecommunications company
and said the government stands by its state secrets claim.
Walker took the requests for dismissal under submission after
nearly three hours of arguments.
He did not say whether he will await the decision by the 9th
Circuit - which has no deadline for ruling - but did tell the
approximately two dozen attorneys in the courtroom, "I probably
won't see you again until after we hear from the 9th Circuit."
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