PORTLAND, Ore. - Two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
US District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, "now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment."
Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield sought the ruling in a lawsuit against the federal government after he was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings in 2004.
The federal government apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread. Mayfield retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act.
Mayfield said that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed.
"For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised," she wrote.
By asking her to dismiss Mayfield's lawsuit, the judge said, the US attorney general's office was "asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning."
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the agency was reviewing the decision.
Mayfield, a Muslim convert, was taken into custody on May 6, 2004, because of a fingerprint found on a detonator at the Madrid bombing. The FBI said the print matched Mayfield's. He was released about two weeks later, and the FBI admitted it had erred.
Before his arrest, Mayfield was put under 24-hour surveillance by the FBI, which listened to his phone calls, and surreptitiously searched his home and law office.