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To Rubber Stamp Is to Weaken Democracy

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Let me start by sending out a huge thank you to everyone who has participated in our latest Roots Project effort to deliver a copy of Crashing the Gate — by hand and personally — to every Democrat in the House and Senate.  We’re still not at our goal, though, so please consider adding a copy to our growing pile.  And thanks so much to all the fantastic Roots members who put this project together.  Can’t say it often enough — we have some amazing members of this FDL community!

Via Glenn, I read that Arlen Specter has, once again, caved to the Administration and the wingnuts on his committee — pulling out the one remaining tooth in his NSA spying bill proposed for the Judiciary Committee — so that there will now be no real, independent oversight whatsoever by the FISA court (according to The Hill).  Pathetic. 

As Glenn says:

Could anything be more obvious at this point than the fact that the Bush administration deeply fears having the legality of its eavesdropping activities adjudicated by a federal court? They have engaged in one maneuver after the next to prevent that adjudication.

One would think that if they really believed that they had the clear-cut legal justification for warrantless eavesdropping which they claim to have, they would be eager to have a court rule on this issue so that this unpleasant controversy — with all of these mean-spirited and utterly baseless allegations of lawbreaking — can finally be put to rest. And yet, time and again, they do precisely the opposite: they desperately invoke every available measure to prevent any judicial ruling as to the legality of their behavior.

Without the provision which was originally "demanded" by Sen. Specter, it is basically impossible for any plaintiff to ever challenge the legality of the NSA program. In very general terms, in order to have standing to bring such a suit, a plaintiff would have to prove that they have been specifically injured by the warrantless eavesdropping beyond the injuries of an average citizen. But the program is secret and there have been no investigations into it. As a result, nobody knows whose calls have been intercepted without warrants.

Therefore, any would-be plaintiff would be immediately trapped in the type of preposterous, bureaucratic Catch-22 in which American law specializes and which the Bush administration is eager to exploit — namely, since nobody knows whose conversations have been eavesdropped on, nobody could ever make the showing necessary to maintain such a lawsuit, and since the administration claims that all such information is highly classified, the evidence necessary to make that showing can never be obtained.

What does this mean to the average person? It means that unless and until we have a Congress that is not controlled by grovelling, fearful Republican Rubber Stamps, there will be no meaningful oversight, no checks and balances, no real government as envisioned by our Founders. What we have, in effect, is an Imperial Presidency and a group of courtiers who work very hard each and every day to please the King.

Bruce Fein and Mickey Edwards have a great editorial on this point in the Philadelphia Inquirer that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention.

If Congress leaves the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program unrebuked, the Constitution’s checks and balances will be permanently crippled. The theory used by the president to justify the program would equally justify disobeying statutes prohibiting mail openings, burglaries, torture or internment camps in the name of gathering foreign intelligence.

Bush claims wartime omnipotence as commander in chief. But the Founding Fathers empowered Congress to regulate war measures to reduce the likelihood of historically documented executive usurpations or overreaching.

Checks and balances are every bit as important to the protection of civil liberties as is the Bill of Rights.

I’m certain that the placement of this editorial is meant to put pressure on Sen. Specter. I just hope they haven’t placed too much faith in his ability to actually stand up to the Administration. The report in The Hill puts that faith in a proper perspective right from the start (especially given the fact that the Judiciary Committee has now taken contemplation of NSA issues off the table this week to deal with something that is more important to Rev. Dobson — ass-kissing 101?).

The Christian Science Monitor does some follow-up on the WH spying on reporters news from yesterday.  Turns out that the spying was likely done by the FBI through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).  (For more on NSLs, see our past report on a debate in which Patrick Fitzgerald participated with other lawyers concerning the Patriot Act and other issues, including NSLs.) 

William Arkin has more on the differences between the various NSA programs that have been discussed in the media and the FBI’s use of NSLs for surveillance.

You know, I don’t know all the answers.  But I do know that we won’t be finding out any of them if Congress just keeps saying, "Whatever you want to do is fine by us, sir.  Just keep asking us for more and we’ll give it to you, no questions asked."  No more rubber stamps.  How about some oversight and integrity for a change?  Whatever happened to our Constitution, anyway?  At what price do we sell our values — and why so cheaply, for an illusion of safety without retaining the ideals on which our nation was founded — liberty and justice for all?

(Great photo from a stage production of various Schoolhouse Rock songs.  I’m gonna be humming "I’m Just a Bill" all day now…  Photo credit goes to George Paul Glanzman.)

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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

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