Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero struck down the sections of the Amended Patriot Act relating to National Security Letters, as reported in this AP article. From the article:
He said Congress, in the original USA Patriot Act and less so in a 2005 revision, had essentially tried to legislate how the judiciary must review challenges to the law. If done to other bills, they ultimately could all "be styled to make the validation of the law foolproof."
Noting that the courthouse where he resides is several blocks from the fallen World Trade Center, the judge said the Constitution was designed so that the dangers of any given moment could never justify discarding fundamental individual liberties.
He said when "the judiciary lowers its guard on the Constitution, it opens the door to far-reaching invasions of liberty."
Regarding the national security letters, he said, Congress crossed its boundaries so dramatically that to let the law stand might turn an innocent legislative step into "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."
He said the ruling does not mean the FBI must obtain the approval of a court prior to ordering records be turned over, but rather must justify to a court the need for secrecy if the orders will last longer than a reasonable and brief period of time.
In his decision, Judge 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.
It's a pleasure to read such lofty and accurate language regarding our constitutionally guaranteed civil rights and this administration's blatant violation of the same. And, more importantly, it's about time!