Court Rejects Feds Petition For Summary Judgement In Verizon Case

July 24, 2007

The United States District Court of Northern California, Judge Vaughan Walker, denied the federal government's motion for summary judgment in United States vs. Adams and similar cases involving Missouri, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. The cases were consolidated for efficiency's sake. At issue in the case is whether the Public Utilities Commission can compel Verizon to sign an affidavit verifying the accuracy of statements they made denying that they shared customer information with the National Security Agency.

"We are pleased with the courts ruling." Attorney General Steve Rowe stated. "The people of Maine deserve to know whether or not Verizon shared their sensitive information with a federal government agency."

The federal government argued that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the foreign affairs power of the federal government, and the state secrets privilege gives them the authority to block the Maine Public Utilities Commission from investigating whether Verizon had shared information with the NSA. The Public Utilities Commission and the Attorney General's Office are continuing to study the decision, which was issued only hours ago, before deciding what steps to take in light of the development. An initial reading of the decision makes it plain that it is good news for the Public Utilities Commission's case.

In the 35 page ruling the Court found that neither the Supremacy Clause nor the foreign affairs power of the federal government prevented a state from asking about phone records, because while federal law is important, it does not wipe out states' rights. The Court also ruled that an executive order issued by the President does not preempt state law. However, the Court reserved ruling on whether the state secrets privilege might bar some of the Public Utilities Commission's inquiries. The court invited the United States to renew its motion after the 9th Circuit rules on the appeal of Hepting v. ATT which is expected to give further guidance on the law applicable to the privilege

"This ruling goes a long way towards protecting the privacy of Maine people." Rowe added. "In a era of data breaches and identity theft, States are working to protect citizens sensitive personal information. The federal government should be a partner in this effort instead of throwing up barriers by filing lawsuits. While we recognize the need to fight the war on terror, we are already losing if we violate our citizens' constitutional rights in that fight."

David Loughran, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, (207) 626-8577