Secret Surveillance Court Gets New Presiding Judge

Wired

Perhaps the only thing we know about the goings on of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — other than it granting the government unfettered spy powers — is that it’s getting a new presiding judge.

The 11-judge court was set up in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the President Richard M. Nixon era, and is best described as a rubber-stamp for giving the federal government carte blanche powers to spy on Americans at home or abroad.

The court is not in Iran or Venezuela, as one might expect, but meets in secret in the District of Columbia with federal authorities and doles out spy warrants without even knowing a target’s name. No probable cause is necessary, as long as the feds attest that the electronic eavesdropping is material to an investigation.

Chief Justice John Roberts — whose position as head of the Supreme Court is responsible for naming judges to seven-year terms, has appointed District of Columbia U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton as the presiding judge. Walton replaces U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, another District of Columbia judge whose secret-court term expires Feb. 21. Walton was on vacation Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Walton, a President George W. Bush appointee to the district court, has presided over a number of high-profile cases in the District of Columbia, including the prosecutions of Scooter Libby, Roger Clemens and various habeas corpus cases from Guantanamo Bay detainees. Secrecy News first disclosed Walton’s elevation Wednesday.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions are largely secret. Although we do know of a 2002 case in which the court upheld the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, legislation that gave birth to the secret court.

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