STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
We have some perspective now from NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG: More recently, the record was equally unpredictive for challengers to Bush administration measures in the war on terror. Civil liberties advocates celebrated a large number of early victories, only to see them evaporate as the cases worked their way up the judicial food chain.
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TOTENBERG: A federal judge has ruled a clause in the Patriot Act unconstitutional.
TOTENBERG: A federal judge in Detroit has handed the Bush administration its first legal defeat in the controversy over warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency.
C: Well, this is the second time that a federal judge in California has declared a section of the large and complex Patriot Act unconstitutional.
TOTENBERG: Now it's the Obama administration's turn to defend a major initiative, and the lessons of history caution against drawing too many conclusions. So says Deborah Pearlstein, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.
DEBORAH PEARLSTEIN: I don't think you can put too much faith in early rulings, especially in cases where, like this one, the political stakes are so high.
TOTENBERG: Notre Dame Law Professor Richard Garnett agrees, but adds that early rulings do signal that arguments that once might have been dismissed should be taken seriously.
RICHARD GARNETT: If an argument wins at the district court level, that to me signals that it's - at the very least it's plausible. And plausible arguments need to be engaged.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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