In late February, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a battle between the United States and the computer giant Microsoft. In 2013, the federal government had served a warrant on Microsoft at the company’s Washington state headquarters, seeking information about an email account that the government believed was being used for drug trafficking. Microsoft challenged the warrant, arguing that it could not be required to turn over the emails because they were stored in Ireland and U.S. law does not apply overseas. Today the justices threw out a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, explaining that the case had become moot.
Today’s unsigned three-page opinion did not come as a surprise. On March 23, Congress passed – and President Donald Trump signed – legislation that directly addressed the legal issue before the court in the Microsoft case. The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, commonly known as the CLOUD Act, contains a provision that requires email service providers to disclose emails within their “possession, custody, or control,” even when those emails are located outside the United States. Once the CLOUD Act was in effect, the federal government went back to court and got a new warrant, which has replaced the warrant originally served on Microsoft back in 2013. In light of all these facts, the court concluded today, there is no longer a “live dispute” between the United States and Microsoft on the legal question that the justices had agreed to review. The court therefore invalidated the 2nd Circuit’s ruling and sent the case back to the court of appeals with instructions to vacate the district court’s rulings against Microsoft and to direct the district court to dismiss the case.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.