NEW YORK, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A sharply divided U.S. appeals court on Wednesday denied a government request to rehear a case on a controversial spy law.
Judges of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York were split 6-6 in denying the request to hear arguments of the case in front of the full appeals court, called an en banc rehearing.
The case was a challenge by a group of lawyers and journalists to a 2008 amendment to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The amendment, enacted by the U.S. Congress, loosened oversight and broadened the scope of U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to monitor communications of non-U.S. citizens overseas. The plaintiffs asserted the amendment was unconstitutional.
They argued they had standing to sue because they suspected their communications with people abroad were being monitored. The circuit agreed, finding that since costly steps were taken to avoid being monitored, this represented evidence of fear
On Wednesday, some of the judges appeared to take the en banc motion as an opportunity to disagree with the appeals' court original opinion in March, which allowed the case to go forward.
A spokesman for the U.S Justice Department's appellate division, which argued the case, declined to comment on Wednesday's appeals court decision.
Appeals court judge Reena Raggi, in a dissenting opinion joined by four other judges, said the fact that steps were taken by the plaintiffs to avoid being intercepted was too thin to warrant standing, and appeared to call on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the case.
"There is, however, another courthouse, and those of us here in dissent can only hope that its doors will be opened for further discussion of this case," Raggi said.
Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs also issued a separate dissenting opinion.
Responding to the dissenting opinions, judge Gerald Lynch (who was part of the original March panel) said that in part because the expansion of the government's surveillance regime was uncontested, the plaintiffs fear of possible interception were reasonable.
The case is Amnesty International USA et al. v. James Clapper Jr. et al., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-4112.
(Reporting by Basil Katz)
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