Today, the U.S. District Court handed down a ruling regarding the NSA wiretapping lawsuit– and in a nutshell, it categorically denied all facets of the Bush administration’s defense.

As near as I can tell, the court decision covers the following (and probably more):

1) It negated the administration’s invocation of “state secrets” to prevent evidence (and the lawsuit) from being brought to light. The court says all relevant information– including the knowledge that the wiretapping occurred– has been exposed, and thus there’s no reason to conceal it for national security reasons.

2) Warrantless wiretapping violates the Fourth Amendment. Period.

3) It also violates the First Amendment, apparently because it “chills” the expression of free speech since American citizens don’t know whether the government is listening to their conversations.

4) Since warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional (see #2 and #3), Congress cannot enact legislation to make it legal. This would effectively kill the Specter bill. I realize that Congress can make laws that *later* face challenges on constitutional grounds, but once something is declared unconstitutional, Congress cannot intentionally create laws to support it.

5) The President cannot act beyond the law or the Constitution, even in times of war, and even when dealing with vague “terrorist” threats to national security.

6) Perhaps most extraordinarily, the court issued an injunction preventing the administration– and the NSA– from continuing to perform warrantless wiretaps. For the reasons above, it declared that the NSA program directly violates FISA *and* the Constitution, and must be discontinued immediately.

Now, this doesn’t make the problem go away, since the administration can continue performing wiretaps at will… but under this court order, they must do it through the FISA court, which has been established as the proper mechanism for this sort of thing.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this, at least in my mind, is that with this decision it’s made clear that Bush, Gonzales, and various other leaders who initiated and directed the NSA program are apparently guilty of criminal activity. They broke the law– that much was clear before, although the administration quickly rattled off a list of reasons why it wasn’t really breaking the law. Now, the constitutionality (is that a word?) of their actions has been brought to question, and the court has ruled on it.

Quoting Glenn Greenwald:

Judicial decisions are starting to emerge which come close to branding the conduct of Bush officials as criminal. FISA is a criminal law. The administration has been violating that law on purpose, with no good excuse. Government officials who violate the criminal law deserve to be– and are required to be– held accountable just like any other citizens who violate the law. That is a basic, and critically important, principle in our system of government. These are not abstract legal questions being decided. They amount to rulings that our highest government officials have been systematically breaking the law– criminal laws– in numerous ways. And no country which lives under the rule of law can allow that to happen with impunity.

What next? Of course the administration will appeal the decision, and I imagine it will float all the way to the top and end up on the Supreme Court docket soon. But with their earlier decision in Hamden v Rumsfeld, it’s clear that the Court is taking a dim view of the expansive executive powers being claimed by Bush.

I wonder if criminal charges will ever be brought. I doubt it, of course, but it begs the question: is the President above the law? As a “common citizen” of this country, I could hardly go around breaking a law, claiming I wasn’t *really* breaking the law, and waiting for legislation (as the Specter bill would have done) to magically make my activities legal. If I can’t do it, why can Bush? Gonzales?

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying the court’s findings, as I’m no lawyer, and I’m sure there’s some legal sleight-of-hand that will exonerate Bush and his gang. But this is certainly a major win for those (like me) who want an end to the endless power play of the executive branch.