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Suit Over NSA Spying Won’t Bend to Shutdown

MANHATTAN (CN) - The ongoing shutdown of the U.S. government cannot delay the lawsuit over the constitutionality of a secret surveillance program on Americans, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had brought the alleged dragnet to light by leaking a secret court order showing that the NSA had forced Verizon to "turn over every day, metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over a three-month period ending on July 19, 2013."

In its June lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York affiliate slammed the surveillance as unconstitutional.

Progression of the case stumbled as the U.S. government entered its first partial government shutdown in 17 years on Oct. 1.

Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska with the Southern District of New York then ordered a toll on all civil cases requiring counsel from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley III lifted that stay Tuesday.

"The government argues a stay is appropriate because funding for the Department of Justice has expired and appropriations have lapsed," Pauley wrote. "But plaintiffs allege they are suffering ongoing irreparable harm. An indefinite shutdown cannot shield the government from defending against claims of ongoing constitutional violations.

"This case presents issues of public importance to the nation and deserves resolution in a timely and efficient manner. As plaintiffs note, other district courts faced with pressing issues have required the Department of Justice to continue to litigate, despite the shutdown."

Reply briefs on pending motions are due on Oct. 25, and the case faces oral argument on Nov. 22, according to the order.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court recently released opinions in which its judges called the surveillance a " flagrant violation " of policy and likely unconstitutional .

The government, which blames human error and technological issues for these failures, has maintained that the spying program is a vital component of counterterrorism.

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