The U.S. Supreme Court today essentially put the government's expanded terror surveillance program beyond legal challenge, tossing out a lawsuit filed by a group of lawyers, journalists, and civil rights groups who claimed they were improperly swept up in the law's reach.
By a 5-4 ruling, the court said the challengers couldn't show that they were actually harmed by the government's foreign terrorist surveillance program, set up during the George W. Bush administration to allow the monitoring of suspected terrorists overseas. Congress eventually approved the program, with some changes.
The issue in this case was what happens when targets of the program talk by phone or e-mail with people in the United States. The challengers claimed that because their jobs required them to talk with people overseas likely to be targeted by the program, they've had to change how they operate – traveling overseas to meet with potential clients and sources instead of talking to them by phone.
In other words, while the challengers said they couldn't prove their conversations were intercepted, because the expanded terror surveillance program is classified, it was so likely that they had the legal standing to sue.
Not so, said the five-member majority, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. Their theory, he said, "is too speculative." And even though the challengers say they've had to take expensive measures to avoid the surveillance they fear is taking place, they "cannot manufacture standing by choosing to make expenditures based on hypothetical future harm."
Writing for the dissenters, Justice Stephen Breyer said the harm the challengers claim "is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen."