The two justices, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made the
comments during a public event at the National Press Club in
Washington. They were responding to questions posed by journalist
Marvin Kalb about whether the court would take up cases arising from
the recent disclosures about NSA surveillance, most notably by
former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The justices did not discuss specific NSA programs. There are
various lawsuits pending around the country challenging the
government's widespread collection of telephone records. A federal
judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in December that the program was
probably unlawful, while a judge in New York held later that month
that it was not. Both cases are now on appeal.
Scalia, a leading conservative justice, said the court was not the
best body to decide major national security issues because of its
lack of expertise. But he indicated that the court would likely
decide the issue of whether widespread gathering of
telecommunications data violates the Fourth Amendment, which bars
unlawful searches and seizures.
"The institution that will decide that is the institution least
qualified to decide it," Scalia said. The legal question is about
"balancing the emergency against the intrusion" on the individual,
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Nine justices serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ginsburg, one of the court's liberal members, said the justices
would have little choice but to decide the matter should it come
"We can't run away and say, 'Well, we don't know much about that
subject so we won't decide it,'" she said.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)
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