Suffolk Law graduate Judge Richard J. Leon—JD ’74—made headlines this month when he declared the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records “most likely unconstitutional.”
Leon, of the D.C. District Circuit Court, wrote that the technology used by the NSA was “almost Orwellian” and that James Madison would be “aghast” to learn the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.
In the ruling, Leon granted a preliminary injunction ordering the government to stop collecting data on the personal calls of two plaintiffs in the case and to destroy the records of their calling history. However, Leon stayed his order pending an expected appeal by the government.
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” he wrote.
Leon’s colorful 68-page opinion included a reference to the Beatles’ Ringo Starr (footnote 36) and a sarcastic aside about the government’s defense of the vast surveillance program (“Candor of this type defies common sense and does not exactly inspire confidence!” he wrote in a footnote).
Suffolk Law boasts more than 200 active judges among its alumni, including many members of the federal bench.
Leon was the first federal judge not from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the legality of the NSA’s data collection on behalf of someone who is not a criminal defendant. The FISC authorized the once-secret NSA program.
Leon, a Republican, was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, and confirmed in 2002.
Before the NSA decision, Leon was best known for his cases involving Guantánamo detainees. In 2005, he agreed with the Bush administration that foreigners imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp could not challenge their detentions in federal court. However, in 2008, Leon ordered the government to free five Algerians who he ruled were illegally detained.
Prior to joining the bench, Leon worked in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration and served as special counsel to the House Banking Committee’s Whitewater investigation.