The National Security Agency’s widespread collection of telephone records is illegal and not authorized by Congress, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in ACLU v. Clapper. A New York District court had previously refused to even review the bulk collection program, saying it was “for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide.”

The ACLU appealed its case against Director of National Intelligence and lying liar James Clapper to the Second Circuit, which found that the program is subject to judicial review, reviewed it, and found it illegal.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the NSA to get court orders to collect “any tangible thing” that is “relevant” to foreign intelligence or terrorism investigations, but the court determined it doesn’t justify collecting billions of Americans’ phone records over a period of years.

“The language of the statute, on its face, is not naturally read as permitting investigative agencies, on the approval of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court], to do any more than obtain the sorts of information routinely acquired in the course of criminal investigations of ‘money laundering [and] drug dealing,’” Judge Gerard Lynch wrote, for the court.

The Second Circuit stopped with the Patriot Act question, though, declining to consider whether collecting all of America’s telephone metadata violates anyone’s rights under the Constitution.

“Because we find that the program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized, we vacate the decision below dismissing the complaint without reaching appellants’ constitutional arguments,” Lynch wrote.

[Photo of Clapper via AP Images]