In the wake of the dueling opinions by Judges Leon and Pauley about the NSA’s Section 215 telephony metadata program, a lot of commentators are assuming that the issue is heading to the Supreme Court. If a federal circuit court rules that the program is unconstitutional and survives en banc review, then I agree that Supreme Court review is likely. Invalidating a major federal program will usually get the Justices’ attention. But let’s assume that the Second Circuit upholds Judge Pauley’s decision, and the DC Circuit reverses Judge Leon. Will the Supreme Court intervene if the Second and DC Circuits uphold the program?
We don’t know, of course, as it all depends on what might get four votes to grant cert. It’s a discretionary call, so it’s hard to predict. At the same time, I think a lot of commentators overestimate the chances that the Supreme Court would step in. It’s certainly possible, but it’s not at all a sure thing. Here are five reasons why the Supreme Court might not review the Section 215 cases:
1) Section 215 sunsets on June 1, 2015. On that date, the statutory authority for the bulk telephony program will end. If the White House wants to continue the program beyond that date, it will have to convince Congress to expressly approve bulk collection. Alternatively, Congress might not be willing to go along, and will only be willing to approve a modified program or no program at all. Either way, the sunsetting of Section 215 will trigger a major Congressional debate on the desirability of bulk collection that will either reject it or accept it in modified form.
A cert petition in the Section 215 cases from Judges Pauley and/or Leon would reach the Supreme Court as this debate was either ongoing or recently [...]