CommunityFDL Main Blog

The Laws Need Not Apply


The Bush Administration has made it abundantly clear that, when it comes to whatever they deem to be important to their interests, the laws need not apply. 

Before you start wondering if I’m just being crabby this morning or whether I need more coffee (yep, I do), read this response from the DoJ to an inquiry from Congress regarding the FISA laws and the President’s interpretation of their applicability to his Administration (via Glenn):

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statutes inconsistent with the Constitution must yield. The basic principle of our system of government means that no President, merely by assenting to a piece of legislation, can diminish the scope of the President’s constitutional power. . . .

Just as one President may not, through signing legislation, eliminate the Executive Branch’s inherent constitutional powers, Congress may not renounce inherent presidential authority. The Constitution grants the President the inherent power to protect the nation from foreign attack, and Congress may not impede the President’s ability to perform his constitutional duty.“ (citations omitted).

Shorter Bush Administration: the laws need not apply.  Glenn has a fantastic piece this morning regarding the whole FISA/NSA mess, the Bush Administration’s assertion of unitary executive power, and President Bush’s steadfast refusal to subject himself or the rest of his Administration to any meaningful oversight.  And the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress…well, they aren’t exactly saying no, are they?

The NYTimes reports that Sen. Specter has finally set a hearing date for Sen. Russ Feingold’s censure resolution.  A hearing will be held on Friday, March 31st.  Expect a lot of political fireworks and posturing but, at the root, you can also expect some serious questions to start coming forward. 

The fact that there is a hearing at all is a huge step forward in terms of making this Administration take responsibility for their illegal actions.  More and more Americans are wondering when and if there is any accountability…and you have all had a lot to do with bringing this issue front and center over the last few weeks, so thanks so much for all your efforts. 

The WaPo front-paged an article on how cries for impeachment are growing louder — and the quotes in the article from just plain old citizens versus the politicians could not be more striking.

We learn this morning, via the AP wire, that the NSA may have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and clients and also between doctors and patients as part of their domestic surveillance.  Without a warrant.  That there is substantial privilege built into these conversations has long been settled law — and that lawyers and doctors have an obligation, under their respective ethical codes, to report any threats of violence above and beyond that privilege is also not in dispute.

The House Democrats asked if any other president has authorized wiretaps without court warrants since the passage of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs intelligence collection inside the United States.

Choosing its words carefully, the department said, "if the question is limited to ‘electronic surveillance’ … we are unaware of such authorizations."

The department also made clear that the program — as confirmed by President Bush — has never been suspended since it began in October 2001. That would include 2004, when reports indicate serious doubts about the program were raised by Justice Department officials.

But the department refused to discuss, or even confirm, a meeting in 2004 at then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. News reports indicated that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Gonzales, then White House counsel, needed his help to quell dissent about the program.

Lawmakers also asked whether federal judges on a secretive intelligence court objected to the program and, if so, how the administration responded.

The department wouldn’t answer, citing the need to protect classified information. "We assure you, however, that the department keeps the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court fully informed regarding information that is relevant to the FISA process," the response said.

No laws apply to us. No oversight need be done. Nothing to see here.  What a Presidency.

Look, I’ve helped our local cops set up surveillance.  It is a useful law enforcement tool, — and as an investigation method, it can be invaluable in some instances where investigation would otherwise be incredibly difficult and dangerous.  Clearly it is a method that serves our national security interests in terms of monitoring al qaeda and other threats to our national security.

But when you are in a position of authority and can do this type of monitoring, you also have a substantial responsibility to ensure that what you are doing upholds our system of laws and does not overstep its boundaries.  This is very powerful stuff — and subject to serious abuse in the wrong hands.  Which is why there are express safeguards for third party oversight built into our laws — and built into the very heart of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights (specifically the 4th Amendment, which requires that no search or seizure be done by the government against a citizen without it first obtaining a warrant from a court).

To throw this aside is to declare a pseudo-dictatorship, in which the sole branch of government with any power is the Executive.  This is wrong.  Plain and simple, it is wrong.  And it is an unconstitutional seizure of power. 

Congress must stand up for the rule of law.  They must stand up for the balance of powers that was expressly written into our founding documents.  Or they might as well all go home and stop drawing a paycheck, because they are nothing more than a rubber stamp unless they stand up and do their jobs.

As citizens, it is our responsibility to hold their feet to the fire.  While I’m not advocating that we pick up our muskets and pitchforks and go once more to the breach, we can raise a whole lot of noise between now and Friday.  Let’s be that squeaky wheel.

Get those pens working on letters to the editor.  Make some phone calls into local talk radio shows.  Call the offices of your Senators — and hit your fax machines.  Let the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee know exactly how you feel.

I, for one, am not ready to give up my Constitution without a fight.  And I hope you will join me.

(Nothing better than a history book for children, I say.  We need to do a much better job of teaching our children the true meaning of patriotism and poltical participation in this country.)

Previous post

La Peter is unhappy with Illinois Republicans

Next post

BREAKING: Huge Immigration Law Protests in LA and Phoenix

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com