Another federal judge rules on legality of NSA surveillance

June 3

The opinion is Smith v. Obama from Judge Winmill of the District of Idaho. Judge Winmill concludes that the NSA program complies with the Fourth Amendment as a matter of precedent, but then expresses the view that the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court should change their precedent so as to deem the NSA program unconstitutional. Unlike Klayman from Judge Leon in DC and Clapper from Judge Pauley in New York, the Smith opinion from Idaho is very brief. The whole opinion is only eight pages, and the bulk of the reasoning is only a page or two. From the opinion:

Judge Leon’s decision [in Klayman] should serve as a template for a Supreme Court opinion. And it might yet. Justice Sotomayor is inclined to reconsider Smith [v. Maryland], finding it “ill-suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.” See U.S. v. Jones, 132 U.S. 945, 957 (2012) (Sotomayor, J., concurring). The Fourth Amendment, in her view, should not “treat secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy.” Id.

But Smith was not overruled, and it continues – along with the Circuit decisions discussed above – to bind this Court. This authority constrains the Court from joining Klayman.

Orin Kerr is the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, where he has taught since 2001. He teaches and writes in the area of criminal procedure and computer crime law.
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Orin Kerr · June 3