Video: Setback for administration

updated 9/30/2004 1:29:19 PM ET 2004-09-30T17:29:19

The U.S. Justice Department will probably appeal a New York district court ruling that the Patriot Act violates the U.S. Constitution, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.

Ashcroft said he would study it upon his return to Washington but “it’s almost a certainty it will be appealed.”

“We believe the act to be completely consistent with the United States Constitution,” he told reporters at talks with European Union officials.

On Wednesday, a district judge struck down a USA Patriot Act provision allowing the FBI to gather phone and Web customer records and then barring the service providers from ever disclosing the search took place.

The decision is the second time a judge has ruled unconstitutional part of the Patriot Act, a package of prosecution and surveillance tools passed shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“There are hundreds of district court judges, and one of them has indicated that some parts of the Patriot Act, in accordance with his view, does not meet constitutional standards,” Ashcroft said. “We will continue in the United States to use every tool we have in the Constitution to fight terrorism.”

Judge Victor Marrero said the law violated the Fourth Amendment because it barred or deterred any judicial challenge to government searches, and it violated the First Amendment because its permanent ban on disclosure was a prior restraint on speech.

He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court recently said that a “state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

“Sometimes a right, once extinguished, may be gone for good,” Marrero wrote.

President Bush has been pushing Congress to renew the Patriot Act before it expires next year, arguing that it is one of law enforcement’s best tools in preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack.

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