National Security Agency

As Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

It’s a familiar enough idea. You see it in both Macbeth and the genesis story of just about every Marvel supervillan. It’s true, I think, not just of people but also of institutions. Like governments.

Just about every time I go to federal court for a sentencing hearing — where it seems the AUSA is fighting for each additional month in prison like it will take a point off his mortgage — I think about this quote from Nietzsche:

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Edward Snowden returned to the news this week when NBC aired an hour-long interview with him, the first on American TV. Anchor Brian Williams met with Snowden in a Moscow hotel. The 30-year-old former computer systems administrator described his motives for releasing an unprecedented payload of classified information about NSA surveillance.

Snowden is vexing. As a person, he seems a mix of likeable and unlikeable traits. He appears earnest, convinced of the rectitude of his choices even if, as he told NBC, “Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law.” Yet he bristles at Obama Administration characterizations of him as a low-level employee, a high-school dropout. (For example, the president told reporters last year, “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”) Even if Snowden is right to resist the connotations of those labels, listening to him defend himself in the interview can be painful. He insists he was “trained as a spy” who lived under an assumed identity and was a powerful operator. He sounds like a young man with a bruised ego. The last thing one wants to have to worry about in a situation of this great national and international importance, though, is one young man’s ego.

Snowden’s case is more important and more vexing. NSA’s surveillance programs are deeply troubling….

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Glenn Greenwald

I have lawyers who are extremely well-connected at the Justice Department who usually can, with one phone call, get [Attorney General Eric] Holder on the phone. And they actually have gotten the people they wanted to get on the phone. And those people have been very unusually unforthcoming about what their thinking is or what’s happening, even to the extent of not being willing to tell them whether there’s already an indictment filed under seal or whether there’s a grand jury investigation…. [T]hey clearly want me to linger in this state of uncertainty.

– Lawyer turned journalist Glenn Greenwald, famous for his reporting on NSA surveillance, discussing with GQ the legal limbo he finds himself in.

(What Greenwald thinks about Hillary Clinton — hint: he’s not a fan — after the jump.)

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‘We’re not Case Western Law.’

* Justice Antonin Scalia isn’t quite ready to publicly weigh in on whether computer data is considered a protected “effect” under the Fourth Amendment. “[T]hat may well come up [before the Supreme Court],” he says. Thanks NSA. [Business Insider]

* “[I]t doesn’t take many bad apples in a barrel to cause a stink.” No matter how hard Biglaw firms try to keep their confidential information locked down, someone’s going trade on it. It looks like STB is learning that the hard way. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* The day after Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by Judge Bernard Friedman, couples who rushed to marry were met with some serious Sixth Circuit sadness. Way to stay and spoil all of the celebrations, judges. [New York Times]

* “We’re not the Cleveland Browns,” says one of Case Western Law’s interim co-deans. With that kind of a glowing endorsement, we don’t see how this law school could possibly fail. [Crain's Cleveland Business]

* Rutgers Law-Newark has a new low-bono fellowship program “believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.” Some other law schools might have a bone to pick about that statement. [New Jersey Star-Ledger]

George Zimmerman, Esquire?

* Mayer Brown issued a response in the wake of its NSA scandal, saying there’s “no indication” spying happened “at the firm.” Spying “of the firm” is another question, but don’t worry, clients, your information is totally secure. [Chicago Tribune]

* “He is almost treating the clients as chattel.” Lateraling may have just gotten harder, because a judge in the Howrey case expects you to kiss your book of business goodbye as soon as you ditch your firm. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Law school applications have plummeted, but some schools are really struggling. Which had the largest drops in enrollment? Take a wild guess. We’ll have more on this later today. [National Jurist]

* You can’t just sit back and relax after you’ve sent off your law school applications. You need to gun your way to enrollment and be as appropriately annoying as possible. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* George Zimmerman, who says God is “the only judge that [he] has to answer to,” hopes that he’ll eventually become a lawyer. We imagine that kind of an attitude will earn him a sanction or two. [CNN]

Ed. note: Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday, we will be on a reduced publication schedule today. We will still be publishing, but less frequently than usual. We will be back in full force tomorrow.

* With a perfect record for equality post-Windsor and four appellate courts soon set to rule, it looks like the Supreme Court will get a second bite at the gay marriage apple by 2015. [National Law Journal]

* Per Am Law, Mayer Brown just posted its highest profits ever. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the NSA’s thunder from down under, the Australian Signals Directorate, was spying on it. [New York Times]

* For Asian American women, Biglaw’s “bamboo ceiling” may be just as tough to crack as its glass ceiling. What’s that? Find out by reading Helen Wan’s book, The Partner Track (affiliate link). [Washington Post]

* Haller Jackson, the law clerk accused of attempted aggravated rape of a minor, has been in and out of court. His defense team filed a motion to suppress a purported confession. MOAR info, plz! [Slabbed]

* Controversy alert: Michael Dunn was convicted of four out of five charges, including three counts of attempted murder, in Florida’s “loud music” trial, but the jury was hung on the murder charge. Lame. [CNN]

Got a pedigree problem?

* The Supreme Court isn’t sure how to address restitution in this child pornography case, but the justices agreed that they didn’t like the “50 percent fudge factor” offered by a government attorney. [New York Times]

* No, stupid, you can’t strike a juror just because he’s gay. By expanding juror protections to sexual orientation, the Ninth Circuit recently added a new notch on the gay rights bedpost. Progress! [Los Angeles Times]

* The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board says the NSA’s domestic surveillance program is illegal and should be stopped. Sorry, Edward Snowden beat you to the punch on that one. [New York Times]

* While Blank Rome was busy denying a possible merger with Nixon Peabody, it picked up 21 attorneys from two small firms in California to open a San Francisco office. Sneaky. [Philadelphia Business Journal]

* Dennis T. O’Riordan, the ex-Paul Hastings partner who faked his credentials, was disbarred — not in New York, where he claimed he was admitted, but across the pond in the United Kingdom. [Am Law Daily]

* The ABA Journal wants to know if your law firm considers law school pedigree during its hiring process. Please consider the law schools your firm shuts out from OCI, and respond accordingly. [ABA Journal]

* Word on the street is UALR School of Law is trying to push an affirmative action program that’s “likely unconstitutional.” It might also be insulting to prospective minority students, so there’s that. [Daily Caller]

In too many ways, 2013 was a year that vindicated the long-standing paranoia of many Americans, particularly the more conservative. A bewildering number of stories littered the news that seemed to confirm exactly the sort of gross government overreach that previously sounded like a delusion of someone whose eyes were scanning the skies for black helicopters. In spring 2013, for example, we learned that the IRS had been targeting the 501(c)(3) applications of conservative and libertarian organizations, apparently based solely on their political and philosophical affiliations. Nothing in 2013, though, fanned the flames of political paranoia quite like revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.

In Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, decided in February, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Amnesty International’s constitutional challenge to a portion of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In its 5-4 opinion, the Court found that Amnesty lacked Article III standing, in part because the plaintiffs could not show that they had necessarily been targeted for surveillance. When Edward Snowden later disclosed details of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, civil libertarians experienced something of a Pyrrhic victory. Standing would not be a problem in many future lawsuits because the revelation of PRISM established that millions of Americans had been subject to some NSA spying. The only question was whether that surveillance amounted to a violation of the law.

As we leave 2013 and 2014 dawns, some new developments have emerged . . . .

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Edward Snowden

* Now that a federal judge has ruled against the NSA’s domestic spying program, maybe government prosecutors will cut Edward Snowden some slack — or maybe haha, yeah right. [WSJ Law Blog]

* On that note, the ACLU is appealing the other federal ruling that says the agency’s activities are constitutional. The NSA will let you know what the Second Circuit’s decision is this spring. [Guardian]

* Alas, Judge Shira Scheindlin knew from the get-go that her stop-and-frisk ruling would be contested, and she even warned the lawyers involved that they ought to consider a jury. [New York Times]

* “How do you say, ‘I’m married, but not really? I’m divorced, but not really?’” Thanks to Utah’s same-sex marriage ruling, unhappy gay couples who married in other states are rejoicing over the fact that they can finally get divorced. [Deseret News]

* Facebook, a social network that constantly changes its privacy settings to make your life less private, is being sued over its alleged interception and sharing of messages with advertisers. Shocking. [Bloomberg]

* It goes without saying that Sergio Garcia is having a happy new year. The California Supreme Court ruled that the undocumented immigrant will be able to legally practice law in the state. ¡Felicitaciones! [CNN]

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