The Supreme Court on Monday declined an initial challenge to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of information about the public's telephone calls.
The high court passed on a chance to review a lower court ruling that found the controversial program “almost Orwellian,” which means the case will go through the normal appeals process as lawmakers battle over reform proposals.
An intervention from the court would have been unusual, but conservative activist and lawyer Larry Klayman had tried to leapfrog the appeals process because of the importance of the issue.
The issue has become the subject of a slew of court challenges from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups.
In December, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said that the NSA program, revealed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, was likely unconstitutional. The ruling was a major blow to defenders of the spy agency and preceded a similar ruling from a government civil liberties panel in January.
Other judges have disagreed. A judge on the New York District Court ruled to uphold the program, as have judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The high court’s decision not to take up the case comes as Congress has begun debating legislative ways to end the NSA’s data collection.
A plan unveiled by the White House late last month, which would need to be passed by Congress, would keep the records in the hands of private phone companies, accessible to government agents with a court order.
Another proposal from leaders of the House Intelligence Committee would similarly end the government's collection of the records, but make it easier for agents to obtain them from a private company.
Congress needs to authorize reforms to the program by next June or else lose it altogether, an outcome intelligence officials have said would be disastrous.
The case is Klayman v. Obama.