“It was never the intent of the Framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights,” she wrote, in a decision that the White House and Justice Department said they would fight to overturn. A hearing will be held before Judge Taylor on Sept. 7, and her decision will not be enforced in the meantime pending the government’s appeal.
The judge’s ruling is the latest chapter in the continuing debate over the proper balance between national security and personal liberty since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which inspired the eavesdropping program and other surveillance measures that the administration says are necessary and constitutional and its critics say are intrusive.
In becoming the first federal judge to declare the eavesdropping program unconstitutional, Judge Taylor rejected the administration’s assertion that to defend itself against a lawsuit would force it to divulge information that should be kept secret in the name of national security.
“Predictably, the war on terror of this administration has produced a vast number of cases, in which the states secrets privilege has been invoked,” Judge Taylor wrote. She noted that the Supreme Court has held that because the president’s power to withhold secrets is so powerful, “it is not to be lightly invoked.” She also cited a finding in an earlier case by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that “whenever possible, sensitive information must be disentangled from nonsensitive information to allow for the release of the latter.”
In any event, she said, she is convinced that the administration could defend itself in this case without disclosing state secrets. Judge Taylor’s ruling came in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, scholars, lawyers and various nonprofit organizations who argued that the possibility of eavesdropping by the National Security Agency interfered with their work.