These lawsuits were part of a larger group of lawsuits filed across the country, seeking to hold the phone companies accountable for their role in this massive invasion of their customers’ privacy. Eventually, all of those lawsuits were consolidated in federal district court in San Francisco before Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. Yesterday, Judge Walker ruled that an immunity provision enacted by Congress last summer requires dismissal of all of the suits against the phone companies. And although we plan to appeal that decision, the ruling – if upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – would give the phone companies a free pass for flouting both the law and the privacy rights of their customers.
But other phone companies – taking their cue from the Bush Administration – decided they were above the law. And when their outraged customers tried to hold them accountable for their actions, the phone companies and the Bush Administration turned to Congress for help. Last July, Congress caved, and as part of a set of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, attempted to give the telecommunication companies amnesty for having broken the law. (You may recall that the ACLU is also challenging the constitutionality of other amendments included in the package, which vastly expand the power of the NSA to spy on our communications).
Civil liberties have become a central focus of the national conversation about the kind of country we want to be. Millions of Americans are looking for signals that restoring the Constitution is a priority among all branches of our government. We must be allowed to get at the truth about illegal eavesdropping. Letting the telephone companies off the hook contradicts a core premise of our democracy: no one is above the law. We can’t the turn the page on one of the darkest, starkest violations of freedom under the Bush Administration unless we are allowed to shine light on the facts.
The al-Haramain Case in the 9th Circuit Federal Court — Blogger”emptywheel” posted an important explanation of the most recent court decision news, June 3, 2009. This post has useful references, including links to the judge’s order. As emptywheel explored the decision further she wrote this (6/4/09) fascinating post exploring (Judge) “Vaugh Walker’s Chess Game: The Cases,” as well as an excellent related (6/6/09) post, “Vaughn Walker’s Chess Game: The New Rules.”