DETROIT (AP) -- Nearly three years after hearing arguments in the case, a federal judge has ruled that an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act may proceed.
The ACLU's clients, including Muslim charities, social services organizations and advocacy groups, have shown they have been harmed by the anti-terrorism law adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood said in a 15-page ruling issued Friday.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2003 on behalf of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and five other nonprofit groups. The ACLU said its clients had been hurt by the Patriot Act because fear of the law has kept many people from attending religious services and making charitable donations.
It was the first legal challenge to the part of the Patriot Act that let agents obtain such things as library lists and medical information.
The ACLU contended Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI access to any "tangible things" such as books and documents through an order from a secret court, does not require investigators to show probable cause.
The group wants the judge to declare Section 215 unconstitutional, and block the Justice Department from using that part of the Patriot Act.
Hood's ruling had been awaited since a Dec. 3, 2003, hearing at which the government argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. Federal officials later argued that amendments approved by Congress in March 2006 had corrected any constitutional flaws in the Patriot
Act. Hood's ruling gave the plaintiffs 30 days to amend their initial complaint in light of those amendments.
Kary Moss, Michigan director of the ACLU, told the Detroit Free Press she would consult with her clients before deciding whether to proceed with the lawsuit.
The government had argued the law does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not apply to information or items that have been given to third parties, even if there is an understanding of
Messages seeking comment were left after business hours Tuesday with the Justice Department in Washington and the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit.
Hood acknowledged it took "an extraordinary amount of time" to issue her ruling, adding, "the issues raised on the complaint and in the government's papers are important to us all."