When Bill and Anti-Bill Collide

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Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reaffirming that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the sole source of legal authority for domestic wiretaps aimed at catching international spies or terrorists. It was a welcome rebuke to the Bush administration, which perceives additional sources of authority in the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and the president's inherent powers. Still, it's doubtful that adding "and we mean it!" to laws that Bush thinks he has the constitutional authority to override will have much of a restraining effect.

Worse, the same panel also approved a plan by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee's chairman, to authorize surveillance even broader than what the Bush administration has acknowledged conducting, with little or no judicial oversight. Among other things, Specter's bill would repeal the provision that identifies the Wiretap Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as "the exclusive means" by which the monitoring of communications involving people in the U.S. "may be conducted"–the same provision Feinstein's bill would reaffirm. Specter and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) somehow managed to vote for both bills, which presumably would obliterate each other if enacted into law. The resulting statutory explosion could take with it what's left of Congress' claim to regulate snooping conducted in the name of national security.

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  1. Obviously, nobody wants a terrorist to know his phone is being tapped so that he continues to incriminate himself. But why does the Bush right fight so hard to avoid getting the warrants after the fact? It doesn’t affect the phone tap operation. All it does is forces the government to leave a paper trail of who they are spying on and why. Absolutely no reason to avoid that simply duty.

  2. “But why does the Bush right fight so hard to avoid getting the warrants after the fact?”

    Because they honestly believe that the President becomes a king when dealing with national security, and that the checks and balances system should not apply to his actions.

    This country is so many generations removed from the problems caused by royalism (and lack of due process for the accused, for that matter), that people don’t understand why these barriers to executive action were put in place to begin with.

  3. It’s all about control. Absolute power is above answering to anyone. The reason they think they can avoid that simple duty is because no one will or can stop them.

    Why does the government desire so much power over its citzens?

    How much power should the government have over its citizens?

    Those two questions should be front and center but few citizens care about real civic issues.

    Today, civics is learned from partisan pundints like O’Reilly, Coulter, Hannity, Franken, and the such, instead of real teachers that care about the academics. People like to argue about left or right superiority, and call each other names.

  4. joe:

    Dead-on. For example, some people (we had a discussion last week in my office) believe that the wire taps were somehow integral to the recently disrupted UK airplane terror plot! Where do they get such ridiculously fabricated stuff?

    And the people who say, “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong…” drive me crazy. That’s not the point. The point is that, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t even be under suspicion and, thus, the whole purpose in obtaining warrants – even after the fact.

  5. Jacob Sullum says: Still, it’s doubtful that adding “and we mean it!” to laws that Bush thinks he has the constitutional authority to override will have much of a restraining effect.

    And, conversely, adding “and we mean it” to laws that override the President’s constitutional authority have no legal effect.

    TrickyVic says: Absolute power is above answering to anyone.

    Yes, which is why we needn’t fear, since the President has to be elected, then reelected, then he’s out anyway. (The only ones close to absolute power are federal judges, and you seem to think they’re the answer to our problems.)

    Meanwhile, PiGuy is certain these programs haven’t helped us (despite specific declarations to the contrary). They can’t even deter anyone and can’t imaginably help us in the future. This is the kind of confidence that gets people killed.

  6. “This is the kind of confidence that gets people killed.”

    Are you sure it isn’t the “we’ll be greeted as liberators” kind of confidence that gets people killed? I also like how you say “despite specific declarations to the contrary.” Why not say, “despite proven successes with the program”? I think we both know why.

  7. Larry says: “Yes, which is why we needn’t fear, since the President has to be elected, then reelected, then he’s out anyway. (The only ones close to absolute power are federal judges, and you seem to think they’re the answer to our problems.)”

    The president may only last 8 years but the laws enacted under him last a long time, so the next president (and the next) also uses those laws.

    It’s not that a particular president has absolute powers but the office of the presidency has absolute powers.

  8. “They can’t even deter anyone and can’t imaginably help us in the future.”

    How can a secret program act as deterrence? Sure, people may be deterred now that its in the open, but that was never intended to happen. Also, having imaginable success is a pretty low standard for doing anything.

  9. “They can’t even deter anyone and can’t imaginably help us in the future.”

    How can a secret program act as deterrence? Sure, people may be deterred now that its in the open, but that was never intended to happen. Also, having imaginable success is a pretty low standard for doing anything.

  10. “{Yes, which is why we needn’t fear, since the President has to be elected, then reelected, then he’s out anyway.”

    This is one of the checks the Constitution places on the President’s authority. It would take an astounding lack of understanding of our republic to believe it is the only one. How can you not be aware that the Constitution is full of restraints on what the President can do? How can you not be familiar with the concept of checks and balances? How can you no know that the legislative power is given to Congress? Or that the President is required to faithfully execute the laws is passes?

  11. If 2 bills definitely contradict in some provision, then the one that’ll take effect in the long run is whichever has the later effective date. If they have the same effective date or none, then whichever is signed last.

  12. Being from the great state of South Carolina I have to say that Graham is way less nuts than our other Senator.

    I guess when you want to run for President sometime in the future you have to look good to a lot of people and voting for those two bills can do that I guess.

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