Patriot Act Faces Judgment

The Patriot Act is coming under intense judicial scrutiny this week, including in an Oregon courtroom. The Oregonian reports on an impending case questioning the constitutionality of the law:

In Oregon, a federal judge is set to hear arguments Monday about a lawsuit that says the Patriot Act allows investigators to conduct illegal surveillance on U.S. citizens.

Brandon Mayfield, a Beaverton lawyer mistakenly linked to a terrorist attack in Spain, agreed to a $2 million settlement with the United States last year. But Mayfield and his family continue to pursue their claim that the Patriot Act violates the U.S. Constitution by allowing investigators to get a warrant without adequate evidence that the target committed a crime.

"This lawsuit seeks to affirm that not even a 'War on Terror' allows the federal government to deprive U.S. citizens of their constitutionally protected rights to liberty and to enjoy the privacy and security of their homes and office," the suit claims.

Government lawyers defending the act, however, argue that Mayfield lacks the legal standing to file the suit:

Federal government lawyers are seeking to dismiss the suit. They say the Mayfields cannot pursue litigation based on their unfounded fears of what federal agents might do.

"The United States has apologized to plaintiffs and settled with them, and there is no reason to believe that plaintiffs face any such danger," court papers say. "It would be purely hypothetical and speculative to imagine that plaintiffs ever would be targeted for future searches or surveillance."

Thus, the government is defending the Patriot Act based on the argument that it probably won't violate your civil liberties. The Oregon case follows a high profile decision by a federal judge striking down certain provisions of the act. From the New York Times:

A federal judge today struck down parts of the new U.S.A. Patriot Act that authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to acquire corporate records using informal secret demands called national security letters.

The law allowed the F.B.I. to force communications companies, including telephone and Internet providers, to turn over their customers’ records without court authorization and permanently to forbid the companies from discussing what they had done. Under the law, enacted last year, the ability of the courts to review challenges to the ban on disclosures was quite limited.

Judge Marrero wrote that he feared the law could be the first step in a series of intrusions into the role of the judiciary that would be “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.”

According to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general in March, the F.B.I. issued about 143,000 requests through national security letters from 2003 to 2005. The report found that the bureau had often used the letters improperly and sometimes illegally.

It's nice to see that there are still some checks and balances. Discuss.

  • Big Barton (unverified)

    For those interested, I believe the argument is at 10:00 Monday in front of Judge Aiken in the federal courthouse. If you have never done so, watching an argument by good lawyers is worth your time. Mayfield's lead counsel, Elden Rosenthal, is so smart it is scary, and the government, as always, will be well-represented. Look for me there.

  • MCT (unverified)

    Pretty strange dear readers here have no vocal opinions regarding the Patriot Act. It should be a hot button for progressives. I for one am very pleased that it shall be challenged. Prayers are definitely in order.

    <h2>For more lasting relief, the act should be repealed. Along with a goodly number of presidential decrees. Restore the roots of our democracy.</h2>
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