Cohen Introduces Bill to Bring Congressional Accountability to the FISA Court

June 28, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced a bill that would give Congress greater oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court), the Court which is responsible for approving measures like the recently disclosed NSA surveillance programs.

“The FISA Court operates in near-secrecy, but makes decisions that have the potential to affect the lives and privacy of millions of Americans,” said Congressman Cohen.  “My bill will ensure that the Court members would no longer be chosen by a single person and that it keeps Congress better informed of its actions.  Congress is a co-equal branch and must have the ability to provide the checks and balances our Constitution demands.”

Currently, the eleven FISA Court judges are selected by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from among the nation’s federal district court judges, with no Congressional advice or consent. 

Congressman Cohen’s bill, the FISA Court Accountability Act, would allow the Chief Justice to appoint three judges, and the Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate to appoint two judges apiece to the FISA Court.  The bill would also require congressional selection of judges to the FISA Court’s appellate panel.

“These provisions would guarantee some measure of ideological diversity and would prevent one person – the Chief Justice – from having too much influence over who makes such important decisions affecting all of our lives,” said Congressman Cohen.

The FISA Court Accountability Act would also require any actions taken by the full Court to receive a 60% majority vote among the judges.  For the appellate court to rule for the Government, the decision would have to be unanimous.

Congressman Cohen’s bill also requires the FISA Court to keep Congress better informed of its decisions by providing classified and unclassified versions of each decision, order, or opinion to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Judiciary Committees.