Judge Kavanaugh, Dragnet Fan From Way Back, Shoots Down Section 215 Rehearing With Extraneous Surveillance Boosterism
from the NSA!-NSA!-NSA!-NSA!-[performs-'Wave'-by-himself] dept
Once upon a time, a DC district court judge found the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Wailing, gnashing of teeth and a round of appeals ensued.
Nearly two years later, this judge (Richard Leon) reiterated his position after the appeals court overturned his decision. Judge Leon again issued an injunction preventing the NSA from collecting the phone records of two of the plaintiffs. This too was almost immediately stayed following the government’s swift appeal.
One of the plaintiffs not included in Leon’s injunction was Larry Klayman. Klayman petitioned the appeals court for an en banc rehearing of its decision to stay Leon’s order. The court has turned him down. But rather than simply turn Klayman down with a single paragraph noting the denial of his request, Judge Brett Kavanaugh took it upon himself to pen a full-throated defense of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection.
I vote to deny plaintiffs’ emergency petition for rehearing en banc. I do so because, in my view, the Government’s metadata collection program is entirely consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, plaintiffs cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim, and this Court was right to stay the District Court’s injunction against the Government’s program.
The Government’s collection of telephony metadata from a third party such as a telecommunications service provider is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment, at least under the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). That precedent remains binding on lower courts in our hierarchical system of absolute vertical stare decisis.
Even if the bulk collection of telephony metadata constitutes a search, cf. United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945, 954-57 (2012) (Sotomayor, J., concurring), the Fourth Amendment does not bar all searches and seizures. It bars only unreasonable searches and seizures. And the Government’s metadata collection program readily qualifies as reasonable under the Supreme Court’s case law. The Fourth Amendment allows governmental searches and seizures without individualized suspicion when the Government demonstrates a sufficient “special need” – that is, a need beyond the normal need for law enforcement – that outweighs the intrusion on individual liberty. […] The Government’s program for bulk collection of telephony metadata serves a critically important special need – preventing terrorist attacks on the United States. See THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT (2004). In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this program. The Government’s program does not capture the content of communications, but rather the time and duration of calls, and the numbers called. In short, the Government’s program fits comfortably within the Supreme Court precedents applying the special needs doctrine.
Kavanaugh makes these assertions about “special needs” and claims the government’s metadata program is instrumental in preventing terrorist attacks, despite no intelligence official ever having presented evidence that supports this assertion.
While it isn’t unusual to see judges align themselves with the government’s “special needs” in cases where counterterrorism efforts are implicated, it’s a bit strange to see a judge step up, unbidden, to tell a plaintiff that, in no uncertain terms, as long as he’s wearing the robe, no one’s going to be questioning the constitutionality of the NSA’s national security efforts.
But why would Kavanaugh feel so compelled to defend dragnet surveillance efforts, especially one that’s becoming much less of a dragnet in the near future? Marcy Wheeler has the answer:
Kavanaugh, of course, served as a White House lawyer and as Staff Secretary during the period when George Bush kept self-authorizing such a dragnet.
[A]s people cite from this language in the future, they should remember that of all the judges who reviewed this decision, only Kavanaugh had this kind of personal tie to the dragnet. And only Kavanaugh saw fit to weigh in.
Klayman, along with other plaintiffs and Judge Richard Leon, have questioned the asserted “cuteness” of Kavanaugh’s baby. And Kavanaugh apparently is not about to let that slide. So, we get an en banc denial with several paragraphs of Kavanaugh’s surveillance state boosterism needlessly attached.