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Dialing for Spines…And the Constitution


Last week Pachacutec asked all of the Roots project members to reach out to their senators to find out how they intended to vote on Arlen Specter’s revision of FISA legislation.  If you haven’t yet joined the Roots Project, you should (see UPDATE below).

Cases are currently moving through the federal courts that challenge the legality of Bush’s domestic surveillance program and they have the potential to provide the first substantive oversight of spying taking place outside of FISA. Specter’s legislation would make meaningful judicial review virtually impossible – and thus give the Bush administration freedom to operate as they please without having to worry about Congress or the courts stepping in to check their expansion of powers.

Glenn Greenwald has done a series of excellent posts about this particular bill, but something he said last Friday illustrates how crucial it is to stop Specter from giving the Administration full cover:

First, it requires (if the Attorney General requests it, which he will) that all pending cases challenging the legality of the NSA program (which includes the EFF and ACLU cases) be transferred to the secret FISA court. Thus, the insufficiently deferential federal judges would have these cases taken away from them. Second, it would make judicial review of the administration’s behavior virtually impossible, as it specifically prohibits (Sec. 702(b)(2)) the FISA court from "requir(ing) the disclosure of national security information . . . without the approval of the Director of National Intelligence of the Attorney General." That all but prevents any discovery in these lawsuits. Third, it quite oddly authorizes (Sec. 702(b)(6)) the FISA court to "dismiss a challenge to the legality of an electronic surveillance program for any reason" (emphasis added). Arguably, that provision broadens the authority of the court to dismiss any such lawsuit for the most discretionary of reasons, even beyond the already wide parameters of the "state secrets" doctrine.

In other words, the unilateral executive gets to add another jewel to his crown with this one — and the US Constitution takes another hit.  Specter is convening a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FISA this Wednesday at 9:30am.   (NOTE:  Specter’s bill is S.2453, and you can read the text of it here.)

We cannot let this discussion continue without our senators hearing our voice. Today I ask that you do a couple of things.  First, make a phone call to each of your senators — you can phone toll free through the Capitol switchboard at 888-355-3588 and they will transfer you to the various Senate offices — and try to achieve two simple purposes:

1. Find out what your senators’ position on the Specter bill is and report back on the Roots Project site so we can start a tally of where ALL of the senators stand.  (Not just the members of the Judiciary Committee, but every Senator.)

2. Tell your senators that you expect them to vote against Specter’s proposed legislation on FISA. Stress the following points when talking to aides about the Specter bill.

• The Specter bill will gut FISA, a law that whose constitutionality or usefulness has never been challenged in over thirty years since its passage, by allowing less stringent legislation to apply to domestic surveillance.

• The Specter bill will prevent meaningful review by the judiciary from taking place, including allowing the Attorney General to move all pending cases challenging the legality of Bush’s domestic spying program into secret courts.

• The Specter bill allows FISA courts to throw out challenges to the legality of the domestic surveillance program for any reason. Americans can’t be expected to cede surveillance powers to the president without adequate congressional and judicial oversight.

That is the first step.

The second step is to concentrate some effort on the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — whether or not they are your representatives.  Again, you can phone toll free through the Capitol switchboard at 888-355-3588 and they will transfer you to the various Senate offices.  Here is a list of FAX numbers for each member of the Judiciary Committee, in case you want to call and FAX:

Arlen Specter, Chairman – Pennsylvania – Fax (202) 228-1229

Orrin G. Hatch – Utah – Fax (202) 224-6331

Patrick J. Leahy – Vermont – Fax (202) 224-3479

Charles E. Grassley – Iowa – Fax (515) 288-5097

Edward M. Kennedy – Massachusetts – Fax (202) 224-2417

Jon Kyl – Arizona – Fax (202) 224-2207

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. – Delaware – Fax (202) 224-0139

Mike DeWine – Ohio – Fax (202) 224-6519

Herbert Kohl – Wisconsin – Fax (202) 224-9787

Jeff Sessions – Alabama – Fax (202) 224-3149

Dianne Feinstein – California – Fax (202) 228-3954

Lindsey Graham – South Carolina – Fax (864) 250-4322

Russell D. Feingold – Wisconsin – Fax (202) 224-2725

John Cornyn – Texas – Fax (972) 239-2110

Charles E. Schumer – New York – Fax (202) 228-3027

Sam Brownback – Kansas – Fax (202) 228-1265

Richard J. Durbin – Illinois – Fax (202) 228-0400

Tom Coburn – Oklahoma – Fax (202) 224-6008

We have a real chance to derail the Specter bill if we act now. It is summer, and most elected representatives tend to think that the American public zones out and isn’t watching…boy are they wrong.  And in this pre-election season jittery period, phone calls and faxes can make a world of difference on something like this. 

Make your opposition heard and bring back information about where your senators stand.  Thanks so much to everyone for your efforts — this is truly how a patriot would act.

UPDATE:  The Roots Project is an exciting venture regular FDL readers know about.  We’re currently not recruiting as we’ve just gotten our terrific new beta site underway that will give all netroots and grassroots progressives across the country new tools for organizing, sharing best practices and collaborating together.  It’s a labor of love involving many, many dedicated hours, and we’re not yet ready for public launch.  Rest assured, we’ll let you know when we are.  In the meantime, please help with this NSA project against Specter’s bill and we’ll get you hooked up with the Roots Project as soon as we can.  Thanks for your passion and your patience! — Pachacutec

UPDATE #2:  Glenn suggests via e-mail that we also phone our Representative in the House, and inform them of your opposition to NSA domestic spying and the need for FISA and other oversight on the issue.  And find out what their position is and report back here.  This issue has been off the radar for most members of the House outside the House Judiciary Committee, so phone calls now can be a real wake-up call.  You can call toll free through the Congressional switchboard at 888-355-3588.

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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