WASHINGTON DC – When it comes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which isn’t so much a Court unto itself as it is a rotating group of Federal Judges appointed to hear warrant requests and other matter designated as appropriate for secret proceedings under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, there’s nobody more powerful than Chief Justice John Roberts:
The 11 FISA judges, chosen from throughout the federal bench for seven-year terms, are all appointed by the chief justice. In fact, every FISA judge currently serving was appointed by Roberts, who will continue making such appointments until he retires or dies. FISA judges don’t need confirmation — by Congress or anyone else.
No other part of U.S. law works this way. The chief justice can’t choose the judges who rule on health law, or preside over labor cases, or decide software patents. But when it comes to surveillance, the composition of the bench is entirely in his hands, and, as a result, so is the extent to which the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation can spy on citizens.
“It really is up to these FISA judges to decide what the law means and what the NSA and FBI gets to do,” said Julian Sanchez, a privacy scholar at the Cato Institute. “So Roberts is single-handedly choosing the people who get to decide how much surveillance we’re subject to.” (read more)