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Justice delayed



The first legal challenge to the USA PATRIOT Act received a lot of press when it was filed way back in July 2003. Initiated by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and six advocacy groups — including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ACCESS), the Muslim Community of Ann Arbor and the Council on American-Islamic Relations — the lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of Section 215 of the act rushed through Congress shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That section of the law is particularly troubling because, among other things, it allows the FBI to search and seize records or personal belongings without showing probable cause and without notifying the person being investigated, according to Wendy Wagenheim, spokeswoman for ACLU-Michigan.

Given the importance of the case, it’s not surprising that the media paid so much attention when attorneys on both sides of the issue made their arguments before U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood in December 2003.

And then? Nothing. And more nothing as Hood continued to mull the merits of the case.

“This particular judge is good, but she’s got a reputation for being really slow,” Wagenheim says.

So slow, Wagenheim says, that in her nine years with the ACLU she can’t remember a judge ever taking this long to rule in a case.

Hood’s office says it can’t say when the judge is expected to rule.

To be fair, Wagenheim says she doesn’t get the impression that Hood is stonewalling. But the issue is about to heat. With Section 215 set to expire at the end of this year, President George W. Bush is expected to lead an intense effort to have Congress retain the provisions.

It’s hard to say how often this particular portion of the PATRIOT Act has been utilized by investigative agencies, Wagenheim says, because the law forbids those served with Section 215 orders from ever talking about it — a condition the suit also protests as a violation of the First Amendment.

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