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Context of 'February 1, 2004: Republican Leadership Transforming House of Representatives into ‘Dictatorship,’ Investigator Claims'

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Bella Abzug.Bella Abzug. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Staffers from the Church Committee (see April, 1976), slated with investigating illegal surveillance operations conducted by the US intelligence community, approach the NSA for information about Operation Shamrock (see 1945-1975). The NSA ostensibly closes Shamrock down the very same day the committee staffers ask about the program. Though the Church Committee focuses on a relatively narrow review of international cables, the Pike Committee in the House (see January 29, 1976) is much more far-ranging. The Pike Committee tries and fails to subpoena AT&T, which along with Western Union collaborated with the government in allowing the NSA to monitor international communications to and from the US. The government protects AT&T by declaring it “an agent of the United States acting under contract with the Executive Branch.” A corollary House subcommittee investigation led by Bella Abzug (D-NY)—who believes that Operation Shamrock continues under a different name—leads to further pressure on Congress to pass a legislative remedy. The Ford administration’s counterattack is given considerable assistance by a young lawyer at the Justice Department named Antonin Scalia. The head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Scalia’s arguments in favor of continued warrantless surveillance and the unrestricted rights and powers of the executive branch—opposed by, among others, Scalia’s boss, Attorney General Edward Levi—do not win out this time; Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, ultimately signs into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). But Scalia’s incisive arguments win the attention of powerful Ford officials, particularly Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s assistant, Dick Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 36-37] Scalia will become a Supreme Court Justice in 1986 (see September 26, 1986).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Church Committee, Bella Abzug, Antonin Scalia, AT&T, Donald Rumsfeld, Ford administration, National Security Agency, Western Union, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Edward Levi, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Pike Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to former Reagan Justice Department official Terry Eastland, writing in his 1992 book Energy in the Executive, the process of selecting Antonin Scalia as a Supreme Court Justice begins now, well before anyone knows there will be a vacancy for him. Attorney General Edwin Meese asks his assistant attorney general, William Bradford Reynolds, to advise him in preparing a nominee, “just in case.” Reynolds assembles a team of Justice Department officials, who examine about twenty possible choices, mostly federal judges, focusing primarily on conservative judicial philosophy. Two individuals stand out: Robert Bork and Scalia. Eastland writes, “Neither was ranked over the other; both were regarded as the best available, most well-qualified exponents of Reagan’s judicial philosophy.” Both are seen as powerful and influential legal figures. When Chief Justice Warren Burger announces his decision to retire from the bench, Reynolds advises Meese to choose Justice William Rehnquist to replace Burger as Chief Justice (see September 26, 1986), and to choose either Bork or Scalia to replace Rehnquist. Reagan makes the final decision: Scalia. [Dean, 2007, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Robert Bork, Edwin Meese, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Terry Eastland, US Department of Justice, William Bradford Reynolds

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Antonin Scalia.Antonin Scalia. [Source: Oyez.org]Appeals court judge Antonin Scalia is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. [Legal Information Institute, 7/30/2007] Although Scalia is an ardent social conservative, with strongly negative views on such issues as abortion and homosexual rights, Scalia and Reagan administration officials both have consistently refused to answer questions about his positions on these issues, as President Reagan did at his June announcement of Scalia’s nomination. [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 6/17/1986] Scalia’s nomination is, in the words of Justice Department official Terry Eastland, “no better example of how a president should work in an institutional sense in choosing a nominee….” Eastland advocates the practice of a president seeking a judiciary nominee who has the proper “judicial philosophy.” A president can “influence the direction of the courts through his appointments” because “the judiciary has become more significant in our politics,” meaning Republican politics. [Dean, 2007, pp. 132] Scalia is the product of a careful search by Attorney General Edwin Meese and a team of Justice Department officials who wanted to find the nominee who would most closely mirror Reagan’s judicial and political philosophy (see 1985-1986).

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, Antonin Scalia, Terry Eastland, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

When Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first and only African-American to serve on the Court, announces his retirement, the Bush administration is ready with a far more conservative replacement. President Bush himself is already under fire for previously naming a moderate, David Souter, to the Court, and Bush is determined to give his conservative base someone they can back. Although Bush had wanted to nominate an appropriately conservative Hispanic, his eventual nomination is Clarence Thomas, who is completing his first year as a judge on the DC Court of Appeals. Thomas has two qualifications that Bush officials want: like Marshall, he is African-American; unlike Marshall, he is as conservative a jurist as Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) or Robert Bork (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Two of former President Reagan’s closest legal advisers, C. Boyden Gray and Lee Liberman (a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society), privately call Thomas “the black Bork.” Bush calls Thomas “the most qualified man in the country” for the position. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] During the July 2 press conference to announce Thomas’s nomination, Bush says: “I don’t feel he’s a quota. I expressed my respect for the ground that Mr. Justice Marshall plowed, but I don’t feel there should be a black seat on the Court or an ethnic seat on the Court.” For his part, Thomas extols his upbringing as a desperately poor child in Georgia, crediting his grandmother and the nuns who taught him in Catholic schools as particular influences on his life and values. Republican senator Orrin Hatch says that opposing Thomas will be difficult: “Anybody who takes him on in the area of civil rights is taking on the grandson of a sharecropper.” [New York Times, 7/2/1991] However, the non-partisan American Bar Association’s recommendation panel splits on whether Thomas is qualified or not, the first time since 1969 the ABA has failed to unanimously recommend a nominee. Twelve panelists find Thomas “qualified,” two find him “not qualified,” and none find him “well qualified.” One senior Congressional aide calls the assessment of Thomas “the equivalent of middling.” [New York Times, 8/28/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “For the president to send a nominee to the Supreme Court with anything less than a uniformly well-qualified rating is irresponsible, but such decisions have become part of the politicization of the judiciary.” Thomas, himself a beneficiary of the nation’s affirmative action programs, opposes them, once calling them “social engineering;” he has no interest in civil rights legislation, instead insisting that the Constitution should be “color-blind” and the courts should stay out of such matters. Civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental groups are, in Dean’s words, “terrified” of Thomas’s nomination. To overcome these obstacles, the Bush administration decides on a strategy Dean calls “crude but effective… us[ing] Thomas’s color as a wedge with the civil rights community, because he would pick up some blacks’ support notwithstanding his dismal record in protecting their civil rights. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] The nomination of an African-American quells some of the planned resistance to a conservative nominee promised by a number of civil rights organizations. [New York Times, 7/2/1991] Three months later, Thomas will be named to the court after a bitterly contentious brace of confirmation hearings (see October 13, 1991).

Entity Tags: Orrin Hatch, US Supreme Court, Lee Liberman, Robert Bork, John Dean, Thurgood Marshall, David Souter, American Bar Association, Bush administration (41), Antonin Scalia, George Herbert Walker Bush, Clayland Boyden Gray, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Anita Hill.Anita Hill. [Source: ABC News]Clarence Thomas’s Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court (see October 13, 1991) are muddied by explosive charges of sexual harassment. Anita Hill, a conservative, African-American law professor who once worked for Thomas both at the Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Thomas’s alleged sexual advances towards her. The committee learned of the allegations from one of Hill’s close friends, who says that Hill was the victim of frequent and pernicious sexual harassment by Thomas. The committee has investigated Hill’s claims, but until now, the reticent Hill has been unwilling to come forward publicly and make the charges. (The FBI is conducting an investigation of the charges as well, though the investigation will be inconclusive.) After the story breaks in the press on October 6, committee members persuade her to come forward and lodge formal charges with the committee, thus allowing them to make her allegations public. The committee opens a second round of hearings to determine the accuracy of Hill’s charges. Hill’s testimony before the committee is calm and lethally specific. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
Testimony - Hill tells the committee: “I am not given to fantasy. This is not something I would have come forward with if I was not absolutely sure of what I was saying.” Hill testifies: “He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts. On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.” He also “referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal” and spoke of the pleasure he had “given to women with oral sex.” Thomas spoke of his fondness for films depicting sex with animals, and of his particular fondness for one actor known as “Long Dong Silver.” Her last encounter with Thomas was in 1983, when, on her last day as an employee at the EEOC, she agreed to go to dinner with him after he “assured me that the dinner was a professional courtesy only.” She adds: “He made a comment I vividly remember.… He said that if I ever told anyone of his behavior, that it would ruin his career.” Judith Resnick, a law professor at the University of Southern California Law Center, says of Hill’s testimony, “You’re seeing a paradigm of a sexual-harassment case.” Asked why she is testifying now after so many years of silence, Hill says: “I have nothing to gain here. This has been disruptive of my life, and I’ve taken a number of personal risks.” She says she has been threatened, though she does not elaborate on the alleged threat. She concludes: “I have not gained anything except knowing that I came forward and did what I felt that I had an obligation to do. That was to tell the truth.” [Time, 10/21/1991] Thomas will vehemently deny the charges (see October 11-12, 1991), and his conservative supporters will smear Hill in the hearings (see October 8-12, 1991).

Entity Tags: Anita Hill, Judith Resnick, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Clarence Thomas defends himself against Anita Hill’s allegations.Clarence Thomas defends himself against Anita Hill’s allegations. [Source: MSNBC]Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) responds to charges of sexual harassment from a former employee, law professor Anita Hill (see October 8, 1991). Thomas denies the charges, calling them a “travesty” and “disgusting,” and says that “this hearing should never occur in America.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] “This is not American; this is Kafkaesque. It has got to stop. It must stop for the benefit of future nominees and our country. Enough is enough.” [Time, 10/21/1991] He accuses the committee of concocting the story out of whole cloth, and says: “The Supreme Court is not worth it. No job is worth it. I’m not here for that.…This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] “No job is worth what I’ve been through—no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don’t confirm me if you are so led.… I will not provide the rope for my own lynching. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private.” Some observers wonder if Thomas is preparing to withdraw his nomination. But, though he says, “I would have preferred an assassin’s bullet to this kind of living hell,” he insists he would “rather die than withdraw.” [Time, 10/21/1991] While Thomas’s denials, and counter-charges of racism, are powerful, and make a tremendous impression on reporters, there are several fundamental flaws with his statement. The denial was not, as characterized by the press, a spontaneous outpouring of outraged innocence, but a carefully written and rehearsed performance, coached by his Republican handlers. And though he responds dramatically to Hill’s charges, he admits in the hearings that he never actually watched her testimony; his wife watched portions of it and reported back to Thomas. Though he denies Hill’s allegations that he asked her out for dates several times, and initially denies ever having any contact with her outside of work, he admits later in the hearings that he drove her home several times and stayed to discuss politics over “a Coke or a beer.” He admits that on “several instances” he visited her home outside of work entirely. Finally, the evidence gathered by the committee, and by researchers after Thomas’s ascension to the Court, overwhelmingly supports Hill’s allegations. Thomas never presents a shred of evidence to refute her charges. [Time, 10/21/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court.Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court. [Source: PBS]The full Senate votes to confirm Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991, October 8, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991) on a 52-48 vote, the lowest margin of victory by any Supreme Court nominee in US history. It is possible that some senators’ votes are influenced by a wash of “fast-action” polls reported by the White House, purporting to show that African-Americans overwhelmingly support Thomas, and a majority of citizens support Thomas’s confirmation. A year later, analysis proves those polls to be completely wrong. [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 1992, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will say: “That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas. It was not about Anita Hill. It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minoritites and the majority.” [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (41), Clarence Thomas, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Washington Post, Tom Daschle, US Department of Justice, Osama bin Laden, Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. [US Department of Defense, 11/13/2001; Washington Post, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004] Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joan Larsen and Gregory Jacob, an attorney-adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), send a classified memo to lawyers in the Justice Department’s civil division. The memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it regards the availability of habeas corpus protections to detainees captured in the US’s “war on terror.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo asserts that detainees have no habeas corpus protections, and therefore cannot challenge their detentions in US courts, despite multiple Supreme Court rulings to the contrary. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Joan Larsen, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, Gregory Jacob, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges.Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. [American Prospect, 2/1/2004] In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” [Dean, 2006]
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” [American Prospect, 2/1/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Democratic Party, Dennis Hastert, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Tom DeLay, Robert Kuttner, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Republican Party, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, House Republican Whip Organization, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Dean, Newt Gingrich, Help America Vote Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 105]
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 193-194]

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Donald Rumsfeld, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Clarence Thomas, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” [Ann Coulter, 12/8/2009; Media Matters, 12/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Caryn James, Ann Coulter, Antonin Scalia, Bob Herbert, Fox News, Mary McGrory, Clarence Thomas, Bill O’Reilly, Harry Reid

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

President Bush, stung by the opposition from both left and right that derailed his nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court (see October 3-27, 2005), nominates appeals court judge Samuel Alito to the Court to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor. [Dean, 2007, pp. 155-157]
Staunch Advocate of Expanding Presidential Power - Alito has impeccable credentials, especially in contrast to the widely derided Miers. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a long-time member of the conservative Federalist Society, and has years of decisions behind him as an appellate court judge. He is a product of the Reagan-era Justice Department. Bush calls him “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America.” He is a powerful anti-abortion advocate, and a staunch supporter of granting ever more power to the executive branch, especially at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. During his time in the Reagan Justice Department, he worked on a project to “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” In 2000 he called the “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986) the “gospel according to the OLC,” the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he worked for four years, and said he was firmly committed to advancing that theory. [Savage, 2007, pp. 267-271]
Bland Facade at Hearings - Alito receives a unanimous “well qualified” assessment from the American Bar Association, and the Bush administration expects that his nomination will sail through the Senate confirmation hearings as quickly and painlessly as did Bush’s previous choice for the Court, John Roberts (see September 29, 2005). The hearings are more contentious than Bush would like, and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will say in 2007 that Alito’s performance before the Judiciary Committee “only served to confirm that the entire process has become little more than a great charade.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), one of the longest-serving members of the committee, observes that the Bush administration believes—correctly—that it can nominate radical right-wing extremists to the Court virtually at will, “as long as their views were not well known,” and adds, “[T]he current White House [has] turned the effort to hide nominees’ views into an art form.” Like Roberts, Alito presents a bland, non-confrontational facade to the committee (see January 9-13, 2006), refusing to take a personal stance on any issue and giving the impression that, as Kennedy will say after Alito and Roberts begin their service on the Court, he would be “as neutral as a baseball umpire.… The men who promised to be neutral umpires look more and more like loyal members of the president’s team.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 155-157]
Party-Line Confirmation - After an attempt by Senators Kennedy and John Kerry (D-MA) to filibuster Alito’s confirmation fails, the Senate confirms Alito’s ascension to the Court by a near-party line 58-42 vote, the closest such vote since Clarence Thomas’s (see October 13, 1991). Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) condemns what he calls the “very bitter partisanship” over Alito’s nomination, and accuses Democrats of playing politics: “When you have a man who has the decency, the legal ability and the capacities that Judge Alito has treated this way, I think it’s despicable.” Alito, whose hardline conservative beliefs are sufficiently masked during the hearings, replaces the far more moderate O’Connor, who before her retirement made up the “moderate center” of the Court with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Now Alito joins Thomas, Roberts, and Antonin Scalia to form a hard-right conservative bloc on the Court which, when joined by center-right conservative Kennedy, forms a nearly unshakable conservative majority. [CNN, 2/1/2006]
Overturning Roe? - Many believe that Alito gives the Court the fifth vote it needs to finally overturn the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), a longtime goal of social conservatives that would go far to make abortions illegal in the US. [Slate, 10/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Orrin Hatch, Sandra Day O’Connor, Samuel Alito, John Dean, US Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Harriet E. Miers, Antonin Scalia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After months of opposition and a recent, clandestine rewriting of the bill (see Before December 30, 2005), President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) into law, effectively outlawing torture by government and military officials (see December 15, 2005). However, Bush also inserts a signing statement into the record reserving for himself the right to ignore the law under his powers as commander in chief if he judges that torturing a prisoner is in the interest of national security (see December 30, 2005). Signing statements have no legal status, but serve to inform the nation as to how the president interprets a particular law. In this case, Bush writes that he will waive the restrictions on torture if he feels it is necessary to protect national security. “We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment,” says a senior administration official, but under unusual circumstances—a “ticking time bomb” scenario, for example, where a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack, Bush’s responsibility to protect the nation will supersede the law. Law professor David Golove is critical of the White House’s position, saying: “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.’ They don’t want to come out and say it directly because it doesn’t sound very nice, but it’s unmistakable to anyone who has been following what’s going on.” Bush has issued numerous signing statements signaling his intent to flaunt the law in the areas of domestic surveillance, detaining terrorist suspects without due legal process, and previous legislation forbidding the torture of prisoners. Many legal and civil rights organizations believe that Bush’s signing statement is part of his push for a “unitary executive,” where the president has virtually unlimited powers in the areas of foreign policy and national security, and neither Congress nor the courts have the right to limit his powers (see April 30, 1986). Former Justice Department official and law professor Marty Lederman says: “The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole. The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism.” Human Rights Watch director Elisa Massamino calls the signing statement an “in-your-face affront” to both McCain and to Congress. “The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch. Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it’s being told through the signing statement that it’s impotent. It’s quite a radical view.” [Boston Globe, 1/4/2006; Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Detainee Treatment Act, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Bush administration (43), David Golove, Elisa Massamino

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society.Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. [Source: American Constitution Society]Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a long, impassioned speech on civil liberties and constitutional issues to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. Gore joins former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) in speaking out against the Bush administration’s infringement on American civil liberties. Gore and Barr have what Gore calls a “shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
Patently Illegal Domestic Surveillance - Gore’s speech is sparked by recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on American citizens for years (see December 15, 2005), and in response, the administration “has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses.” As the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) is perfectly sufficient, there was no need for the Bush administration to circumvent that law. “At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s domestic surveillance,” Gore says. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” Gore says he agrees with Bush on the threat of terrorism, but disagrees that the US has to “break the law or sacrifice our system of government” to protect itself, as this will make it “weaker and more vulnerable.” In addition, he says, “once violated, the rule of law is itself in danger,” and, “Unless stopped, lawlessness grows, the greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles.” It is patently obvious that the Bush administration has broken the law in conducting and approving its warrantless wiretaps, Gore says, regardless of what arguments and defenses administration officials may put forth (see September 12-18, 2001 and Early 2002). So, Gore says, “When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if Congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as [Supreme Court] Justice [Felix] Frankfurter once wrote, ‘To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between the president and the Congress.‘… And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.”
Illegal Seizure of American Citizens - Gore notes that Bush has declared that he has “a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that notwithstanding his American citizenship that person in prison has no right to talk with a lawyer, even if he wants to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person” (see November 13, 2001 and March 5, 2002). He says: “The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen—any American citizen he chooses—indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned.” Gore then says: “No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution. It must be rejected.”
Specious Authority to Torture - Neither does the executive branch have the right to authorize torture, Gore says. After citing horrific examples from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, he calls it “a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that you’re nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War. They have been observed by every president since then until now. They violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, and our own laws against torture.”
Unlawful Kidnapping of Foreign Citizens - The president has no right to have foreign citizens kidnapped from their homes and brought to the US for interrogation and imprisonment, or worse, delivered to other nations for harsh interrogations and torture, says Gore. The closest allies of the US have been shocked by such claims.
No Restraint in the Constitution? - Gore asks whether the president really has such powers under the Constitution and, if so, “are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?” He quotes the dean of Yale’s law school, Harold Koh, who said, “If the president has commander in chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.” Gore is “deeply troubl[ed]” that “our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power.” He cites the numerous usage of “signing statements” by Bush that signal his intent “not to comply” with particular legislation (see December 30, 2005). When the Supreme Court struck down Bush’s indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” (see June 28, 2004), “the president then engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the court from providing any meaningful content to the rights of the citizens affected.”
Historical Cycles - Since the founding of America, Gore says, the country has abrogated its citizens’ rights in one circumstance or another, and cites numerous examples. But those abrogations were always rectified to some degree in a repeated cycle of what he calls “excess and regret.” Gore is worried that the country may not be in such a cycle now. Instead, he says, the US may be on a path to permanent, state-sanctioned authoritarianism, with the constitutional safeguards American citizens have come to expect eroded and undermined to the point of irretrievability. Gore specifically cites the administration’s support for the so-called “unitary executive” theory of government, which he says “ought to be more accurately described as the unilateral executive.” That theory “threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the Constitution that the framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition.”
Stark Authoritarianism - Why are Bush and his top officials doing this? Gore says that “[t]he common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control. The same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all executive branch employees.” Gore continues: “Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time. The only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. Two thousand two hundred American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality.”
Gutting Congress - Though serious damage has been done to the judicial branch, Gore acknowledges, “the most serious damage in our constitutional framework has been to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of Congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the executive to attain this massive expansion of its power.… [T]he legislative branch of government as a whole, under its current leadership, now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the executive branch.… [T]he whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization” (see February 1, 2004). Gore says each member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must “uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government that you are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country.”
We the People - The American people still, for the moment, have the power to enforce the Constitution, Gore says, quoting former President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.” Gore continues: “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.… The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights. Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country?” [Congressional Quarterly, 1/16/2006; American Constitutional Society, 1/16/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Liberty Coalition, US Supreme Court, Harold Koh, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Constitution Society, Bush administration (43), Convention Against Torture, Felix Frankfurter, George Washington, Geneva Conventions, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Robert “Bob” Barr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Journalist and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall says of former Vice President Al Gore’s speech on civil liberties the previous day (see January 16, 2006): “The point Gore makes in his speech that I think is most key is the connection between authoritarianism, official secrecy, and incompetence. The president’s critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it’s often treated as, well… he’s power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power.… The basic structure of our Republic really is in danger from a president who militantly insists that he is above the law.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 170-171; Talking Points Memo, 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush, Joshua Micah Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawmakers in Congress complain that restrictions on their discussion of upcoming appropriations bills make it almost impossible to conduct appropriate oversight on those bills. The House votes 327 to 96 to authorize an appropriations bill to fight the administration’s war on terror, but only about a dozen members have actually read the bill. Rules adopted by the Republican leadership of both houses in concert with the White House (see February 1, 2004) allow lawmakers to read the bills, but prohibit discussing the contents of those bills, even if that information has already been leaked to the press, under penalty of criminal prosecution and expulsion from Congress. “It’s a trap,” says Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO), referring to the restrictions on discussing the bill. “Either way, you’re flying blind.” Carnahan’s colleague, Walter Jones (R-NC) agrees: “We ought to be doing a better job on oversight, [but] if you’re not going to be able to question it or challenge it, that makes it difficult.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 117]

Entity Tags: Walter Jones, Bush administration (43), Russ Carnahan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jeffrey Toobin in 2007.Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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