The Supreme Court on Monday declined to decide whether the public has at least a limited right to review the decisions of a largely secret federal surveillance court whose influence has been growing.

The justices turned down a request from the American Civil Liberties Union and others to review a ruling that denied access to decisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). That court said it lacked authority even to consider a public claim under the First Amendment to its secret decision-making.

Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor said the case should have been reviewed.

Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 to regulate domestic surveillance in national security investigations, such as monitoring suspected spies and terrorists.

Investigators must convince a FISC judge that a target for eavesdropping is probably an agent of a foreign power, but targets can include Americans and any communication in which one party touches U.S. soil.

Privacy advocates have criticized the court as a rubber stamp, because judges hear only the government’s request. Most subjects never know they are targets or what the government told the judge. In 2019, for instance, judges approved 952 applications in whole or with modifications, while denying 58 in whole or in part.

After leaks from Edward Snowden in 2013 showed widespread, bulk collection of phone calls and emails, Congress in 2015 required the government to review any significant opinions for public release.

But the ACLU argued that such reviews are conducted by executive-branch officials, not a court, and that the government believes release of opinions before June 2015 is not required, although it has released several.

Besides other free-speech advocates, the ACLU’s challenge was supported by news organizations, including The Washington Post, and some former high-level national security experts.

One group included former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former CIA director John Brennan, and Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who was solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

Their brief said it is not enough for the executive branch to decide which opinions may be released, and that there is no reason the public cannot see properly redacted versions of the court’s actions.

“The basic, longstanding premise of public access to judicial opinions does not cease to apply merely because the judicial opinions of the FISC relate to surveillance, intelligence, and national security,” they wrote.

In a short dissent, Gorsuch said they had a point.

The government makes “the extraordinary claim that this Court is powerless to review the lower court decisions even if they are mistaken,” he wrote in an opinion joined by Sotomayor. “On the government’s view, literally no court in this country has the power to decide whether citizens possess a First Amendment right of access to the work of our national security courts.”

“If these matters are not worthy of our time, what is?” Gorsuch asked.

The case is ACLU v. United States.