Attorney hopes San Francisco judge's spying decision halts Congress
By Jason Bennert, Bay City News Service
July 20, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - An Electronic Frontier Foundation
attorney hopes today's decision by a federal judge in a lawsuit
against the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program
will derail efforts to have the program's constitutionality decided
by a secret federal court.
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker refused to dismiss the
foundation's lawsuit despite claims by the federal government
that allowing the case to proceed would endanger national security
and expose state secrets. He ruled that a "state secrets
privilege'' does not apply since the government has publicly admitted
to monitoring domestic phone calls and Internet traffic.
"It might appear that none of the subject matter in this
litigation could be considered a secret given that the alleged
surveillance programs have been so widely reported in the media,''
Walker said in his opinion.
Foundation attorney Cindy Cohn wants Congress to take notice
of Walker's decision. It is currently considering a bill by Sen.
Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would allow questions about the program's
constitutionality to be decided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court, which is closed to the public.
"We're hopeful that today's decision will give Congress
pause,'' Cohn said. "Shuffling them off to a secret court
is not the way to go.''
The foundation's case is one of approximately 35 nationally,
including at least five in California, that challenge the domestic
spying program. A hearing is scheduled in Chicago later this month
to decide whether to consolidate all of the cases under one judge.
While the foundation does not support consolidation, it believes
Walker should be the sole judge if consolidation happens.
"They should give them to Judge Walker because he's so much
further along in his thinking about the issue than anyone else,''
Walker is the first federal judge to issue a ruling on the "state
secrets privilege,'' according to Cohn.
The parties are scheduled to return to Walker's courtroom on
Aug. 8 to discuss discovery issues and the appointment of an expert
to assist Walker with the secrecy and national security issues
in the case.
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