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The NSA ruling: Some fresh air

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Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It could be shaping up as the case that will either affirm one of America's sacred Founding precepts or keep America traveling ever faster down the slippery slope of constitutional relativism.

“Could be,” of course, is the operative phrase.

A federal district judge in Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's practice of systematically collecting telephone call data — without a warrant — in the name of “security” to thwart would-be terrorist attacks is an “almost Orwellian” violation of Americans' Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,' would be aghast,” wrote Judge Richard Leon.

But before anyone takes to toot-tooting any horns of victory in the centuries-old debate over the wisdom of giving up an essential liberty for a little security, there's this sobering reality:

This ruling comes from a single district judge who's attempting to not only overturn a 1979 Supreme Court ruling (as antiquated as it is, given modern technology) but more than a dozen other judges' rulings on more than 30 occasions that such “metadata” collection passes constitutional snuff.

Translation: The odds are long that the ruling, as important and refreshing as it is, will survive on appeal.

Nonetheless, it is an important ruling that can only enhance one of the greatest legal debates of our times.

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