PASADENA, California — A federal appeals court appeared troubled Friday by the Obama administration’s arguments that the government could break domestic spying laws without fear of being sued — and that the government’s argument might be correct, due to an oversight by Congress.
A two-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard an hour of oral arguments here by the government and a lawyer for two attorneys whom a federal judge concluded had been wiretapped illegally without warrants by the government.
The American attorneys — who were working with the now-defunct al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, were awarded more than $20,000 each in damages and their lawyers $2.5 million in legal fees. They sued under domestic spying laws adopted in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The government appealed.
Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter told Judge Michael Daly Hawkins and M. Margaret McKeown, both President Bill Clinton appointees, that they should dismiss the case outright because the government is immune from being sued for breaching the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under a concept known as sovereign immunity.