Spy courts get two new judges

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has appointed two new judges to serve on the federal courts that watch the country’s surveillance operations.

James Boasberg, a judge on the District of Columbia District Court, has been appointed to serve on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Richard Tallman, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, will serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which analyzes the FISC's decisions.

Both judges were appointed to their current positions by Democratic presidents, slightly shifting the balance of the courts.

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The three-member review court will now be packed with judges appointed by former President Clinton, according to a list of judges maintained by the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy.

The lower FISC is far more Republican-leaning. Boasberg will bring the number of Democratic-appointed judges on the 11-member court to just two.

The courts authorize spy agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct surveillance operations internationally. They have come under fire since leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the government’s snooping on Americans and foreigners alike. 

Critics of the spy regimes have said that the court should be amended to be more transparent. They also want to change the way judges are chosen for the courts.

Judges on the FISA courts are appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice for a period of seven years but do not undergo a confirmation process. 

The two judges’ appointments on the new courts begin this year and end in 2021. Both will keep their current posts while in their new roles.