The federal judge who struck down President George W. Bush's warrantless surveillance program on Thursday allowed the government to continue the program, but only for another week as it seeks a further postponement from an appeals court.
U.S. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ruled on Aug. 17 that the surveillance, which targets communications between people in this country and people overseas when a terrorist link is suspected, violates the rights to free speech and privacy. She had also said it violates the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government enshrined in the Constitution.
The White House says the surveillance is a key tool in the fight against terrorism that already has helped prevent attacks.
The Justice Department asked Taylor to allow the program to continue until the Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issues a final ruling on the legal issues, which could take months.
Taylor on Thursday denied that request, but gave the government a seven-day reprieve while it seeks a stay from the appeals court pending that court's final ruling.
Justice Department attorney Anthony J. Coppolino argued that a stay was warranted based on Bush's opinion that the program is vital to national security.
"Your injunction, as far as we can see, was the first time in history that foreign surveillance has been enjoined during a time of war," he told Taylor. If the surveillance stops, the nation would be at greater risk of a terrorist attack, he said.
Taylor told Coppolino she could not grant the indefinite stay because "there is no likelihood" that her ruling will be overturned. She said granting it would allow "irreparable harm" to continue against the plaintiffs, a group of journalists, scholars and lawyers who believe their overseas contacts are likely targets of the surveillance.
"However, the harm to the public would indeed be irreparable and great if events do unfold as predicted" by the government, she said in granting the additional seven days.
Taylor previously had delayed enforcement of her ruling until Thursday's hearing. However, she appeared to chide the administration when she noted that Coppolino did not mention any "attempt at compliance" in his arguments.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought the suit in Detroit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs because they believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets.
Many of them said they had been forced to take expensive and time-consuming overseas trips because their contacts were no longer willing to speak openly on the phone or because it would be unethical to ask them to do so when the confidentiality of those conversations could not be guaranteed.
The ACLU argued Thursday against an indefinite stay, but did not oppose a short-term one.