WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an unusual challenge to a National Security Agency program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans, as congressional critics of the data collection stepped up efforts to force more disclosure about the scope of the surveillance.
The push against the NSA on both the legal and legislative fronts reflected intensifying pressure being put on the extensive surveillance effort following the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, pressure that is running into stiff resistance from congressional leaders of both parties, as well as the Obama administration and courts.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the challenge directly with the Supreme Court, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation.”
The justices gave no reason for rejecting the group’s petition, but the unusual procedure of bypassing the lower courts probably played a role. Other, more conventional challenges to government surveillance programs are pending.
In urging the justices not to hear the case, the federal government said “the proper way” to mount a challenge “is to file an action in Federal District Court to enjoin the program, as other parties have done.” It cautioned, though, that “the government may assert certain threshold defenses to such a suit.”
In a separate matter Monday, the Supreme Court turned down a challenge to an unusual Alabama capital sentencing practice that has sent 95 defendants to death row despite jury determinations calling for life sentences.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined for the most part by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, issued a 17-page decision dissenting from the court’s refusal to hear the case. Alabama now stands alone, she said, in routinely allowing judges to override sentencing determinations from capital juries calling for leniency.