Two new judges were added to the secretive court overseeing the U.S.’s intelligence operations last week.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts announced that Judge James Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and Judge Thomas Russell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky will take seats on the 11-member panel Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) next month.
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Jones and Russell will replaces Judges Mary McLaughlin and James Zagel, whose terms expire on May 18. McLaughlin was also nominated to the district court by Clinton, but Zagel but nominated by former President Ronald Reagan.
Judges on the FISA Court serve terms up to seven years and are charged with overseeing applications by the government to conduct surveillance missions under federal intelligence laws. The 11 spots are filled by federal district court judges and are designated by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The court was created in 1978 with the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but has been criticized from some corners for operating too secretly. In deciding whether to approve government requests, the court generally only hears arguments from federal lawyers — not from opponents of the applications — and most decisions are classified.
“In recent years, the Court has also secretly interpreted intelligence surveillance law in ways that were unexpected and counterintuitive, authorizing the collection of all domestic telephone metadata records,” Steven Aftergood, the head of the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy, wrote in a blog post on Monday.
Last month, the Brennan Center for Justice wrote a scathing analysis of the court, which concluded that its “minimal involvement in overseeing programming surveillance does not meet” constitutional requirements to protect Americans’ privacy.