Morvillo Abramowitz Assists Amnesty International in Significant Civil Liberties Appeal

March 21, 2011

On March 21, 2011, in a closely-watched case involving significant issues of national security and civil liberties, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Morvillo Abramowitz and ruled that a coalition of attorneys, journalists, and human rights activists are entitled to challenge the Bush-era expansion of the federal wiretapping laws even if they cannot prove that their communications have been “acquired” by the government. In Amnesty Int’l USA v. Clapper,---F.3d.----, 2011 WL 941524 (2d Cir. Mar. 21, 2011), the Second Circuit reversed the district court and held that Amnesty International and its co-plaintiffs have standing to proceed with a constitutional challenge to the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Those amendments permit the government to conduct large-scale electronic eavesdropping–including surveillance of communications into and out of the United States–with no warrant and little judicial oversight, so long as it attests that “a significant purpose” of the wiretaps is the collection of foreign intelligence.

Morvillo Abramowitz Partner Barbara Moses, along with Associate Andrew Brunsden and attorneys from the Brennan Center for Justice, authored the lead amicus curiae brief, filed on behalf of the Brennan Center and other public interest organizations in support of the plaintiffs. The amici argued that that unless a statute authorizing secret wiretaps can be challenged by plaintiffs whose telephone calls and emails fall squarely within the class that the statute permits the government to “acquire,” the validity of that statute would be effectively immunized from judicial review. The Second Circuit agreed. It noted that the plaintiffs had reasonably undertaken burdensome measures to protect the confidentiality of their communications against likely government eavesdropping, and held that “[n]othing more is required for standing.”