Josh Gerstein reports for Politico:
The largely-secret court that oversees many federal surveillance programs is chafing at the Obama Administration's reluctance to declassify one of the court's rulings.
In an order Wednesday, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Dennis Saylor faults the government for its taciturn response Monday to court orders instructing the executive branch to conduct a declassification review of the opinion, one of several sought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"On November 18, 2013, the government advised that, '[a]fter careful review of the Opinion by senior intelligence officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Executive Branch has determined that the Opinion should be withheld in full and a public version of the Opinion cannot be provided,'" Saylor wrote. "The government has provided no explanation of this conclusion."
Betraying apparent irritation at the response, Saylor continued: "Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that, no later than December 20, 2013, the government shall submit a detailed explanation of its conclusion that the Opinion is classified in full and cannot be made public, even in a redacted form."
In his two-page order (posted here), the judge also reminded Justice Department lawyers that court rules require that the government prepared an unclassified or redacted version of the explanation and provide it to the other party in the litigation.
A spokesman for the Justice Department, which represents the government in front of the court, had no immediate response to a message seeking comment on the new order.
It is unclear why the Obama Administration concluded that nothing about the opinion, issued in February, could be made public. In recent months, the Director of National Intelligence has published or cleared for release dozens of court opinions and other filings in connection with sensitive surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
A total of 15 federal district court judges sit on the FISA court on a rotating basis. Saylor is a district court judge in Worcester, Mass.. He was appointed to that position by President George W. Bush.