There’s still a fire in his belly and multiple causes in his heart. Lawyer and longtime conservative legal gadfly Larry Klayman, the man behind the first successful lawsuit against the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, remains ready to rumble on behalf of ethics and morality within the American legal and governmental systems.
Mr. Klayman emerged as an unlikely champion of constitutional freedoms this week when a federal judge agreed with his contention that the NSA exceeded its constitutional authority by systematically gathering the telephone records of millions of Americans.
It was not, however, Mr. Klayman’s first time in court. During his career, Mr. Klayman has battled the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, as well as varied targets such as OPEC, Facebook and — in a dispute over health care expenses for his grandmother — his own mother.
Journalist Geraldo Rivera once called him a legal wild man, and Bill Clinton strategist James Carville referred to him as “a little twerp.” An opposing lawyer described him as snide and argumentative, and a Midwestern newspaper claimed he was akin to “a bad case of chiggers.”
But Mr. Klayman said in an interview that his latest legal triumph was founded on a bedrock of principle.
“I think this attitude is something you’re born with. I don’t like when people lie to me. It gets under my skin,” said Mr. Klayman, 62. “I was a Justice Department lawyer. I saw a government that I truly believed in get corrupted, and I took offense. I still take offense. That’s what keeps me going.”
After Mr. Snowden’s leaks this year concerning vast government collection programs of Americans’ phone records and metadata, Mr. Klayman filed suit June 6 saying his own rights had been violated by the secret snooping programs.
The case was heard in November. On Monday, District Court Judge Richard J. Leon sided with the veteran lawyer and activist, ruling that the clandestine agency’s collection of citizen phone calls likely violated the Fourth Amendment. Although the administration strongly rejected the ruling and the judge stayed his own decision in the face of a near-certain appeal, Mr. Klayman had scored an unlikely courtroom win.
“This judge is a hero, and there are not many of them out there,” Mr. Klayman said.
The ruling shows no signs of curbing Mr. Klayman’s natural exuberance or his willingness to take on virtually any opponent. In the calmest of voices, the lawyer offered a caustic criticism of the state of the nation’s capital.
“President Obama is the most corrupt and compromised leader to ever occupy the White House,” Mr. Klayman said in a matter-of-fact tone.
He is more concerned with the results than with making friends or avoiding offense.
“In this case, I want the NSA and other agencies to be kept under control and to be watched by the courts in a way that is transparent to the public. And I want people to know what is at stake here. We’ve learned that every American is under surveillance and many believe that there will be retaliation against them. It’s like a police state worse than anything George Orwell ever conceived of.”
He is careful to maintain some parameters, however, where surveillance is justified.
“The NSA has a legitimate right to pursue the collection of metadata if there are genuine links to terrorism,” Mr. Klayman said. “Still, I want the courts to step in, or we as a nation could go into a state of violent revolution.”