WASHINGTON – The Bush administration asked an appeals court Thursday to step in immediately and dismiss a lawsuit over the government's warrantless eavesdropping program, calling a lower judge's ruling dangerous and wrong.
The Justice Department asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Garr King in Portland, Ore., that kept the suit alive. Government attorneys argued that continuing the case would risk the disclosure of "highly sensitive foreign intelligence information."
The lawsuit was filed by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which had a chapter in Ashland, Ore., that went out of business after the U.S. government labeled it a terrorist organization.
The foundation alleged that two of its lawyers and at least one official were under electronic surveillance in March and April 2004. The foundation is asking King to rule the surveillance a violation of a federal law that requires a special court to approve intelligence-related wiretapping.
Typically, appeals are filed at the conclusion of a case in trial court; however, in this case, Justice Department attorneys are asking the 9th Circuit to step in now given the sensitivity and urgency of national security.
In the Sept. 7 order, King declined to dismiss the case, saying he believed there may be a way for the lawsuit filed by a now-defunct Islamic charity to proceed without releasing information that could harm the nation's security.
The decision, the latest of several rulings on the controversial program, drew a stern rebuke this week from Vice President Dick Cheney. He called it "just plain wrong."
In Thursday's filing, Justice Department attorneys argued that King's decision is flawed because classified facts needed to evaluate the case are protected under the so-called "state secrets" privilege.