A Slight Victory Against the PATRIOT Act

United States District Judge Ann Aiken has proven herself to have some competence and has ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is an amendment to the PATRIOT Act, is unconstitutional:

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

This is only a minor victor since, I believe, there are still several levels of appeals courts the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) can take to overrule this decision if they so choose. I would be utterly shocked if the FBI didn’t attempt to fight this decision as they seem to find constitutional restrictions an inconvenience to their mission of arresting anybody and everybody to get their numbers up and make themselves sound impressive.

This court case also exemplifies the need for protections against illegal search and seizures. The target of the FBI’s wrath this time was an innocent man who should have never been accused in the first place as the FBI’s evidence was flimsy at best:

Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield sought the ruling in a lawsuit against the federal government after he was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004.

The federal government apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread. But as part of the settlement, Mayfield retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the authority of law enforcers to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.

How magnanimous of the government to allow Mr. Mayfield the right to challenge the PATRIOT Act. It’s a good thing this ability to challenge was allowed because, as pointed out by judge Aiken, dismissal of this case would have been akin to a constitutional convention:

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she wrote.

By asking her to dismiss Mayfield’s lawsuit, the judge said, the U.S. attorney general’s office was “asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.”

What many people fail to realize is the fact that our courts can act as de facto constitutional conventions by interpreting the bylaws expressed in the Constitution. For example if the Supreme Court had ruled that the second amendment only applied to the federal government they would have basically stripped the right to keep and bear arms from the people as the states would be allowed to make any laws they pleased in regards to firearms. Had judge Aikens ruled that FISA was within the scope of the fourth amendment then the FBI would be allowed to continue secret searches of homes with flimsy evidence (which they may still be able to do if they appeal this decision).

The power to write law is obviously open for abuse but the true power lies in the ability to interpret law.