U.S. Supreme Court denies certiorari in NSA phone records case brought by Phila. father of slain agency cryptologist

By Jon Campisi | Apr 9, 2014

The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari, or early review, in

a case brought by a Northeast Philadelphia man against the NSA over the government agency’s phone records collection program.

In an order Monday, the justices turned down a request by plaintiff Charles Strange to hear his lawsuit before it got to an appeals court in the nation’s capital.

Strange and his attorney, former federal prosecutor Larry Klayman, who is also named as a plaintiff in the litigation, prevailed late last year in their case when U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who sits on the federal bench in the District of Columbia, granted their injunction barring the government from collecting, as part of the National Security Agency’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program, any records associated with their Verizon accounts.

Strange, of Philadelphia’s Torresdale neighborhood, claims he was targeted by the NSA because he spoke out against the government following the death of his son, Michael Strange, an NSA cryptologist technician who worked as support personnel for Navy SEAL Team VI who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when his helicopter was shot down.

Strange, who became outspoken against the Obama administration, and Klayman, his co-plaintiff and counsel who heads up the advocacy group Freedom Watch, alleged constitutional violations in the collection of the bulk phone records.

The two argued that the U.S. government exceeded its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In his December 2013 opinion, Leon, the federal trial judge, referred to the NSA’s phone records collection program as almost “Orwellian,” and he signaled that the program may be unconstitutional.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” Leon wrote at the time.

Leon simultaneously stayed his own ruling pending appeals.

The decision was, ultimately, appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but the plaintiffs filed what is known as a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, which asks the justices to bypass the traditional appellate route and hear a case immediately because of the important constitutional issues.

Such a review is rarely granted before a matter makes its way through lower appeals courts.

The high court’s Monday order denying certiorari did not have an accompanying opinion, but simply turned down the request in one sentence.

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