DETROIT (AP) -- The Justice Department launched an appeal within hours of a federal judge's ruling that, for the first time, struck down President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to privacy and free speech.
The judge on Thursday ordered an immediate halt to the program, but the government said it would request a stay during the appeals process, arguing that the secret surveillance program is crucial to stopping terrorists.
"We have confidence in the lawfulness of this program," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in Washington. "We're going to do everything we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, said it opposed the stay but agreed to delay enforcement of the injunction until the judge hears arguments Sept. 7.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was the first to find the National Security Agency surveillance program unconstitutional, and she took the Bush administration to task for its arguments, saying it appeared to be saying the president had the "inherent power" to violate laws of Congress.
"There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.
"The public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," she wrote.
The Justice Department quickly filed notice of appeal, saying it would seek a reversal by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Bush administration "couldn't disagree more with this ruling." He said the program carefully targets communications of suspected terrorists and "has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives."
The lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the U.S. involving people the government suspects have terrorist links.