PORTLAND, Ore. – Two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield sought the ruling in a lawsuit against the federal government after he was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004.
The federal government apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread. But as part of the settlement, Mayfield retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the authority of law enforcers to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.
Mayfield claimed that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed with Mayfield, repeatedly criticizing the government.
“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she wrote.
How did this come to be? Because Brandon Mayfield is a very clever man:
Mr. Mayfield sued the government, which apologized and agreed to a $2 million settlement last November. The settlement included an unusual condition that freed the government from future liability with one exception. Mr. Mayfield was allowed to continue a suit seeking to overturn parts of the Patriot Act.
It was that suit on which Judge Aiken ruled Wednesday.
This is the most vivid chipping away at the horrendous monstrosity that is the “PATRIOT” Act, but by no means the only one. Earlier this month, a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of the ACLU in a challenge to the Patriot Act on behalf of an Internet service provider that was issued a “national security letter” demanding customer phone and computer records. The judge in that case ruled that the FBI must justify to a court the need for secrecy for more than a “brief and reasonable” period of time.
Yes, the Bushies will appeal. But this ruling is a potent weapon for those Democrats seeking to either overturn the Act entirely, or reform it to eliminate its most vile portions.