Above the Law: Court Throws Out Warrantless Wiretap Suit

Feds Can't Be Sued for Illegally Spying on Americans

by Jason Ditz, August 07, 2012

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has thrown out the only lawsuit ever likely to advance on the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping, declaring in their ruling that the executive branch is above the law in this case.

The lawsuit centered on illegally intercepting lawyers’ telephone calls without judicial approval, and while the court didn’t dispute the previous ruling that the surveillance was against the law, they insisted that no damages could be paid to the plaintiffs.

The ruling says that since Congress never explicitly allowed the government to be sued for damages in this case, no such damages could ever be awarded and that the executive branch has “sovereign immunity” from being sued even for breaking the law.

The lawsuit was a particularly convoluted one, with the Bush Administration accidentally admitting to spying on the lawyers and then classifying the admission after the fact, arguing that there was no evidence it ever happened. The Obama Administration continued the appeals process with the argument that lawsuits against the government in and of themselves are unacceptable unless Congress explicitly allows them. The lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that by making such spying illegal Congress had “implicitly” allowed lawsuits.

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