Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will on Wednesday announce a class action suit against the NSA for unconstitutionally (by some estimations) scooping up Americans' telephone call data. Want to join in? Head over to his PAC's website and enter the required fields: email address and ZIP code.
There's no doubt that Paul is sincere in his opposition to the NSA. As a very-new senator at the beginning of 2013, he established his RebpubLibertarian bona fides by challenging the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA with a lengthy filibuster demanding that President Obama state that he couldn't kill an American in America with a drone. (Obama responded via Eric Holder; he cannot.)
That was before the Edward Snowden revelations began rolling in. Once the National Security Agency's daily vacuuming up metadata about phone calls became public knowledge, Paul repeatedly criticized the practice. With the lawsuit, he takes that criticism a step further.
"I am filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment," a statement on the filing reads. "I expect this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court and I predict the American people will win."
Paul's argument, in short, is that the collection of metadata — length of call, phone numbers involved, etc. — has been determined to be constitutionally questionable by a variety of courts. (Most notably, by the D.C. District Court last December.) And anyone who has had their metadata collected under the probably/perhaps unconstitutional program deserves some reparation. MSNBC's Adam Serwer spoke with a law professor about the filing:
“A class action would be Rand Paul, not just suing on his own behalf, but on behalf all people, known and unknown, who are similarly situated,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University. “Ostensibly, he could be suing on behalf of all Americans, or all Americans hypothetically affected by these court orders.”
Paul is calling for 10 million Americans to sign up for the suit. While collecting information on class action suit participants over the web is not unusual, it does seem odd that the only information Paul requires for his lawsuit is an email and ZIP code. That's not enough information for a court filing — but it's plenty of information for a political campaign.
By all accounts barring Paul's, the senator plans to run for president in 2016. A list of 10 million people with working email addresses, a demonstrated commitment to an issue on which Paul is strong, and information about where exactly they live? That's got a lot of value to Paul 2016, even if not to his legal team. Speaking of that legal team: Paul's case will be litigated by former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli and Freedomworks president Matt Kibbe — two men that are no strangers to conservative politics. Paul's lawsuit is smart politics for a number of reasons; strengthening his ties to the right through his legal alliance is included in that.
There's one last flaw in Paul's plan. As it turns out, the NSA probably only collects about 30 percent of phone call metadata. Meaning that there are a lot of Americans who may not be legitimate parties to the lawsuit — and, in fact, there's almost no way for Paul, Cuccinelli, and Kibbe to figure out who is a legitimate complainant and who isn't.
Should they at some point seek to actually do so.
Update, 9:00 p.m.: A lawyer has accused Paul and Cuccinelli of appropriating his work in the lawsuit filed with the court. Last year, Paul was found to have repeatedly taken work from other sources for use in his own speeches without attribution.