Ever since the 2005 revelations of Mark Klein (yes, that long ago) that the NSA was intercepting phone traffic on a mass basis, successive presidential administrations have employed every possible species of legal trickery to prevent a constitutional challenge to the program on the merits.
The key question is, Why? Surely, if either Bush or Obama believed their rhetoric that what they’re doing is Constitutional, they would welcome the courts’ review, which would surely result in a thumping endorsement of bulk metadata spying, probably based on the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, which ruled the collection of much more limited metadata to be constitutional.
The actions of both administrations suggest otherwise. Their problem was always that the plain text of the Fourth Amendment didn’t seem to support their position. Shall we take a look at it again? I never get tired of it.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrant shall issue, except upon probable cause, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In order to be “reasonable”, a “search” must have a warrant, which is supported by “probable cause”, and which “particularly describes” the “place” to be searched.
So let’s say, then, just hypothetically, that you set up a massive phone data interception program without bothering with a warrant at all, and got Congress to retroactively immunize anyone participating in it from prosecution (hey there, W!), or that your response to the existence of this program when you got into office was to get a secret court to issue a secret ruling approving a warrant allowing the “seizure” of all phone metadata for all calls in the United States (howdy, BarackO!). How would a reasonable court interpret the requirements for probable cause, or for particularly describing the “persons or things” to be seized, for a program like that?