Judge Ann Aiken of the Oregon Federal District Court ruled that two provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), "50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823, as amended by the Patriot Act, are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution." Her decision is a refreshing reminder of the power and uniqueness of our constitution, and a hard slap down to the administration that proposed the legislation and the weak-kneed congress that rubber-stamped it. Here are the last six paragraphs of the 44 page judgement. Read it and see how out of touch the President, the House, and the Senate are with basic constitutional principles. I can only presume that in today's environment the judge will be decried by the administration and neo-cons as an "activist judge" and a "terrorist sympathizer".
Finally and perhaps most significantly, In re Sealed Case ignores congressional concern with the appropriate balance between intelligence gathering and criminal law enforcement. It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers. Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights. Where these important objectives merge, it is critical that we, as a democratic Nation, pay close attention to traditional Fourth Amendment principles. The Fourth Amendment has served this Nation well for 220 years, through many other perils. Title III, like the Supreme Court's pronouncements in Katz and Berger, recognizes that wiretaps are searches requiring fidelity to the Fourth Amendment.
Moreover, the constitutionally required interplay between Executive action, Judicial decision, and Congressional enactment, has been eliminated by the FISA amendments. Prior to the amendments, the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances - a principle upon which our Nation was founded. These constitutional checks and balances effectively curtail overzealous executive, legislative, or judicial activity regardless of the catalyst for overzealousness. The Constitution contains bedrock principles that the framers believed essential. Those principles should not be easily altered by the expediencies of the moment.
Despite this, the FISCR holds that the Constitution need not control the conduct of criminal surveillance in the United States. In place of the Fourth Amendment, the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate. The defendant here is 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.
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 illadvised. In this regard, the Supreme Court has cautioned:
The price of lawful public dissent must not be a dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance power. Nor must the fear of unauthorized official eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and discussion of Government action in private conversation. For private dissent, no less than open public discourse, is essential to our free society.
Therefore, I conclude that 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823, as amended by the Patriot Act, are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for declaratory relief is granted.