At the heart of the case is whether the Executive Branch has the power to head off lawsuits against the government by claiming a "state secrets" privilege, in this case the president's right to secretly authorize the program under his so-called expanded powers during the War on Terror.
First, Senior U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of Detroit denied the Justice Department's request to put off a hearing on the merits of a lawsuit in her court until after she had ruled on the government's claim that the case must be dismissed based on the "state secrets privilege."
Now Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker of San Francisco has told lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit in his court to answer a series of questions on how he should proceed as he approaches the "state secrets" assertion.
Walker is hearing Hepting v. AT&T, which is the furthest along of the lawsuits. Meanwhile, the Justice Department moved this week to consolidate all of the lawsuits before a single U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C.
Now Salon reports that the telecom has maintained a security, highly secured room in the St. Louis area where it does the NSA's bidding.