The U.S. Supreme Court opted not to weigh in Monday on an early challenge, brought by a Philadelphia man and a conservative activist, to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records.
Charles Strange of Torresdale and his attorney, Larry Klayman, had asked the justices to bypass the traditional appellate process to hear their case, saying the constitutional questions it raised were too weighty to wait for a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In December, Strange and Klayman persuaded a federal judge in Washington to issue a preliminary injunction on the metadata-collection program, first revealed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The ruling offered the first judicial opinion to directly challenge the program that records data on nearly all calls placed to or from the United States.
The high court's decision Monday sends the matter back to the appellate court.
Obama administration lawyers have defended the program and argued that information such as phone numbers and the time and length of calls is freely available to phone companies. Government collection does not amount to an unlawful search, administration lawyers say.
Strange, a Verizon subscriber, contends that the NSA has compelled the phone company to share his records.
Since his son, Michael, an NSA cryptologist, died in a helicopter crash over Afghanistan three years ago, he has harshly and publicly criticized the agency and President Obama.
In his suit, he argues that his political activism made him a likely target for abusive surveillance. However, he has not offered any evidence linking anomalies on his phone to the government spy program.
In an opinion last year, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, described the metadata program as "almost Orwellian" and said it more than likely posed a violation of constitutional rights.
But Leon stayed his order pending appeals, citing "the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues."