In a significant and surprising ruling today, D.C. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that NSA’s program that collects information on nearly all phone calls in the United States is unconstitutional. Judge Leon ruled that the program likely violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
In addition to highlighting the interesting civil liberties debate that surrounds the NSA’s program, this ruling provides an opportunity for the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals–where the President nominated and the Senate recently confirmed a number of nominees to following a change in the Senate’s filibuster rules–and potentially the Supreme Court to update search and seizure precedent.
Judge Leon ruled that the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), which the Government relied on, is no longer good law because present-day circumstances are so unlike the circumstances in Smith that the case’s reasoning does not apply. Regardless of whether Judge Leon’s rationale and reasoning is correct, the Supreme Court’s existing search and seizure precedent is often outdated, at least in application, due to the vast technological advances that have taken place over the last few decades.
The DOJ will certainly appeal this ruling and, whether the decision is upheld or overturned, this could lead to significant new Fourth Amendment precedent that will impact a wide-range of police and investigative tactics that are currently employed by both federal and state agencies, including here in Virginia and the broader Washington, D.C., region.