Fed. Judge Rules Patriot Act's NSL Letters Unconstitutional

The ACLU scored a big victory for all of us today. A federal judge in New York found the Patriot Act provision pertaining to national security letters -- specifically, the part that gagged recipients of the letter -- unconstitutional.

A federal court today struck down the amended Patriot Act’s National Security Letter (NSL) provision. The law has permitted the FBI to issue NSLs demanding private information about people within the United States without court approval, and to gag those who receive NSLs from discussing them. The court found that the gag power was unconstitutional and that because the statute prevented courts from engaging in meaningful judicial review of gags, it violated the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers.


U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero wrote, “In light of the seriousness of the potential intrusion into the individual’s personal affairs and the significant possibility of a chilling effect on speech and association - particularly of expression that is critical of the government or its policies - a compelling need exists to ensure that the use of NSLs is subject to the safeguards of public accountability, checks and balances, and separation of powers that our Constitution prescribes.”

The New York Times report on the decision is here. The 106 page opinion is here (pdf).

Update: For more, see my guest post at Firedoglake.

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    Any preview on (none / 0) (#1)
    by Maryb2004 on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 08:51:07 PM EST
    how the 2nd Circuit might view the appeal?

    good (none / 0) (#2)
    by wg on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 09:16:58 PM EST
    Good, the judicial push-back begins however feeble, also bit late given that the Congress is way ahead of them*. The question is what will all those GOP judges George installed in recent years as rewards for their services to GOP (or rather Cheney) agenda do? A push-back of their own?

    Jeralyn filed this under civil liberties so maybe this link will be appropriate. The Economist's take on the state of democracy in the world.

    Short version, 28 countries qualify these days as full democracies according to them, we are not even in the top fifteen. The category we did worst at?

    Civil Liberties.  

    Last place among those 28, believe it or not. Founding fathers must be turning in their graves. Long and arduous road ahead I'm afraid given that it took us 200 years to get into this rut. And let's  admit a lot of people out there not knowing anything else are quite happy with the current state of affairs.

    * Leahy remains unquestionably a towering giant of American democracy in view of recent events, no question about it. As far as newcomers are concerned,  I'm more than impressed with Sen. Whitehouse, there is rare skill and fire there, watch him for example grilling Gonzo on the White House access to Gonzo's department. Brilliant. Better senatorial performance rarely been seen in the Senate in recent years. Schumer class.

    2nd Circuit makeup (none / 0) (#3)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 10:19:03 PM EST
    8 Clinton and 5 GWB appointees on Active status.
    1 LBJ, 1 Ford, 2 Carter, 3  Reagan, 2 GHWB, and one Clinton pick with part-time Senior status.