On Tuesday, August 14, a federal judge issued a disturbing ruling allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to evade public accountability for infiltrating faith institutions, monitoring law-abiding people, recording sexual encounters, and then lying about all of it. Carney’s decision erodes democracy in two dimensions at once, enabling ongoing constitutional violations by the executive branch while, at the same time, eroding judicial independence.
The ruling is especially surprising given the judge’s previous criticism of the FBI for lying to him in court.
Fazaga v. FBI addressed claims by a series of southern Californians challenging a long running secret infiltration of their faith institutions by an ex-convict and undercover FBI informant named Craig Monteilh. After being promised a six figure payment to infiltrate mosques across southern California—and even to record sexual encounters with women in those communities to enable subsequent blackmail—Monteilh blew a whistle and joined a case brought by the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson & Renick LLP; and the ACLU of Southern California.
US District Judge Cormac J. Carney of the Southern District of California dismissed much of the case this week (leaving intact claims against individual FBI officers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), holding that the state secrets privilege and sovereign immunity essentially preclude the suit from moving forward against the government.
News outlets such as The Los Angeles Times have featured analysis from ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who correctly noted that Judge Carney’s ruling is “contrary to the basic notion that the judiciary determines what the law is and holds the government to it,” and that the ruling essentially “exempt[s] huge swaths of government activity [from] judicial oversight.”
Missing from most reports, however, are a recognition of the multiple ways in which Carney’s decision erodes democracy.