WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Friday asked a federal judge to delay enforcing her order for a halt to the government's warrantless communications surveillance program.
The Justice Department argued that ending the intelligence-gathering program threatens "the gravest of harms to the government and to the American public" and leaves the country "more vulnerable to terrorist attack."
"We respectfully submit that this court should not override the national security judgment of the president and the nation's senior intelligence officers regarding the harm that would result" from the program's suspension, the government lawyers argued in a motion filed with the court.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled last month in Detroit that the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and ordered that it be halted.
The Justice Department appealed Taylor's decision to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit along with 11 other parties, will oppose a stay, but agreed to delay enforcement of the injunction until Taylor hears arguments Sept. 7.
"Every time the NSA engages in warrantless wiretapping, they are violating the law and the United States Constitution," ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said.
The controversial program allows the NSA to monitor communications into and out of the United States when links to al-Qaida are suspected. Breaking with historic norms, President Bush allowed the NSA to conduct the surveillance without first getting court approval.
In its latest filing, the Justice Department argued that Taylor's verdict is overly broad because it calls for an end to the program entirely, not just with respect to the ACLU and the suit's other plaintiffs.
The government lawyers also argued that the judge's decision is flawed because classified facts needed to evaluate the case are protected under the so-called "state secrets" privilege.