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Court ruling on NSA spying can't wait, activist says

Court ruling on NSA spying can't wait, activist says
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A lawyer involved in a heated legal battle over the National Security Agency (NSA) wants a federal court to rule in his case before Congress acts on renewing the Patriot Act.

On Tuesday, conservative legal activist Larry Klayman formally asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to speed up its deliberations over his charges that the agency’s bulk phone records collection program is unconstitutional. 

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“Further violations of the U.S. Constitution cannot be countenanced,” Klayman wrote in the five-page legal request. “After sixteen months on appeal, this court ... has a duty to issue its decision now.”

Klayman argued his case before the federal court in November, after a lower court judge previously concluded that the NSA’s data-gathering was “almost Orwellian.” At the time, the panel of three judges appeared reluctant to agree with that ruling, and instead seemed likely to declare the NSA within its legal and constitutional bounds. 

But the legal circumstances around the NSA have changed since then.

On the one hand, the Senate is currently debating how or whether to extend the provision of the Patriot Act the NSA has used to try to justify its collection of millions of Americans’ phone records. Without action from Capitol Hill, that provision would expire at the end of the month.

At the same time, another appeals court declared earlier this month that the NSA program was illegal, going beyond anything Congress had envisioned in the provision, Section 215. The court, however, declined to halt the NSA program, knowing that Congress would soon step in.

Klayman’s new filing appears dedicated to making sure that doesn’t happen.

“This court is not an inferior branch of government to Congress and should not defer to what might happen,” he wrote. “Indeed, if the court ruled now it would aid Congress in fashioning future legislation.”

Still, it seems unlikely the appeals court will heed Klayman's call. The Senate is scrambling to meet its deadline at midnight on Sunday, and a ruling from the court would seriously upset that legislative effort.

A third appeals court has also heard arguments in a similar case over the NSA program and has yet to weigh in.