The United States Supreme Court has been wrestling with several substantial cases this term. The two marriage equality cases currently being considered and the two dog-sniffing Fourth Amendment challenges recently ruled upon are only some of the cases that have been before the Court this session. In addition to these high-profile cases, the Court has ruled on several importantcriminal defense matters, including a critical privacy-related holding that was virtually unnoticed by the public or media when it was handed down two months ago.
A challenge had been placed before the Court which questioned the ability of the federal government to legally eavesdrop on citizens’ international e-mails and telephone calls. The Court turned the challenge back in a 5-4 vote. In essence, the Court has declined to rule on the constitutionality of the law that currently permits the federal government to engage in such action.
This critical privacy issue may profoundly affect certain criminal cases in which evidence is brought forth by prosecutors obtained during these secret international data searches. In declining to rule on the challenge to the law that permits this behavior, the Court has effectively ruled that it may continue to the detriment of American privacy rights in criminal cases.
Granted, this action may only be permitted in certain alleged anti-terrorism and related situations. However, limiting the ability of the public to challenge behavior under the law may ultimately lead to its abuse. Sometimes, as in cases like this one, the silence of the Supreme Court fosters significant policy actions even more so than when it speaks clearly.
Source: New York Times, “Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader U.S. Eavesdropping,” Adam Liptak, Feb. 26, 2013