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Profile: Laurence Silberman

Laurence Silberman was a participant or observer in the following events:

A federal appeals court rules 2-1 in favor of Theodore Olson, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who has refused to comply with a subpoena issued as part of an independent counsel’s investigation into political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Olson’s position is that the independent counsel is illegal under the Constitution, as interpreted by the so-called “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986). One of the appellate court judges, Carter appointee Ruth Bader Ginsberg, argues that the independent counsel law is perfectly constitutional, and fits with the Founding Fathers’ vision of a system of “checks and balances” among the three governmental branches. But Reagan appointees Laurence Silberman and Stephen Williams outvote Ginsberg. Silberman, who writes the majority opinion, is a longtime advocate of increased executive power, and calls the independent counsel law “inconsistent with the doctrine of a unitary executive.” The Supreme Court will strike down Silberman’s ruling (see June 1988), but the independent counsel will not bring charges against Olson. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Environmental Protection Agency, Laurence Silberman, Stephen Williams, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in its first-ever ruling, overturns a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 17, 2002) that stopped the Justice Department from being granted sweeping new powers to conduct domestic surveillance on US citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002; FindLaw, 11/18/2002 pdf file]
'Rubber Stamp' - The ACLU’s Ann Beeson says of the ruling, “We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubberstamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants. “As of today, the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans’ homes and offices.” The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the original ruling stand. The ACLU and its partners are considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, as well as asking Congress to legislate tighter restrictions on the Justice Department’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance. Beeson notes that appealing the FISA Review Court’s decision might be impossible: “This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American’s privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Hearing a one-sided argument and doing so in secret goes against the traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy.” The FISC Review Court is a special three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in accordance with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The judges include appellate court justices Laurence Silberman, Edward Leavy, and Ralph Guy, Jr. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002]
Law Professor Slams Ruling - Law professor Raneta Lawson Mack is highly critical of the ruling. Mack writes that the court twisted its reasoning upon itself in order to give the Justice Department what it asked for. It misrepresented the facts and legal arguments of the case. It gratuitously insulted the ACLU and other “friends of the court” in its ruling. It wrote that the entire FISA law is constitutional even though its standards conflict with the Fourth Amendment. To justify its ruling from a legislative standpoint, the Review Court cherrypicked statements by legislators that supported the Justice Department’s stance while ignoring those from other viewpoints. It called the Bush administration’s efforts to challenge the “firewall” between law enforcement and foreign intelligence as “heroic,” even though the Justice Department, Congress, and FISA itself recognizes and accepts the dichotomy. It accepted without question or evidence the government’s contention that false, misleading, or inaccurate FBI affidavits in numerous FISA applications were a result of “confusion within the Justice Department over implementation” of the firewall procedures that the Justice Department itself drafted and implemented. Mack writes that the court failed entirely to grapple with one key question that, if considered, would, in her opinion, “easily have laid bare the Executive Branch’s thinly-veiled quest for unconstrained authority to invade the privacy of US citizens with minimal oversight.” The question is, “why would the government need to alter procedures for obtaining FISA warrants when the lower FISA court had never rejected an application? Indeed, according to the lower FISA court opinion the court had ‘reviewed and approved several thousand FISA applications, including many hundreds of surveillances and searches of US persons [and had] long accepted and approved minimization procedures authorizing in-depth information sharing and coordination with criminal prosecutors.’” The lower court ruling provided for coordination and sharing of information between law enforcement and government agencies, Mack notes, and writes that in light of that finding, “can the government seriously contend that the minimization procedures that it drafted in 1995, which the lower FISA court dutifully adopted, were too restrictive, warranting a still more lenient approach?” Mack considers the ruling to be “legally unsound.” She is appalled by the Review Court’s groundless implication that FISA hindered the ability of the FBI to anticipate and perhaps prevent the 9/11 attacks. “What the lower FISA court recognized and, indeed, what all Americans should legitimately fear is that the Executive branch is disingenuously using its September 11th failures in conjunction with the hastily drafted and poorly crafted Patriot Act to ‘give the government a powerful engine for the collection of foreign intelligence information targeting US persons.’ By adhering to the minimization procedures, the lower FISA court merely sought to assure that the balance between legitimate national security concerns and individual privacy was not disturbed by seemingly unconstrained executive power.… [T]here is… no question that a secret FISA appellate court structure, with judges hand selected by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, that hears only the government’s evidence, and grants only the government a right to appeal is a singularly inappropriate forum to resolve issues that threaten the fundamental rights and values of all US citizens. The only question that remains is how much further our justice system will be derailed in pursuit of the war on terrorism.” [Jurist, 11/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Ralph Guy, Jr., Raneta Lawson Mack, William Rehnquist, US Department of Justice, Open Society Institute, US Supreme Court, Laurence Silberman, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Center for National Security Studies, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, Ann Beeson, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Edward Leavy, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The New York Times reports that a nine-member bipartisan presidential panel is due to provide President Bush with a classified report describing American intelligence on Iran and North Korea by March 31 (see April 2, 2005). After a 14-month review, the panel, led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, will conclude that US intelligence lacks sufficient intelligence to make firm judgments on Iran’s weapons programs. The Times reports that one of its sources said the “panel’s deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as ‘scandalous,’ given the importance and relative openness of the country.” [New York Times, 3/9/2005; London Times, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Charles S. Robb, Laurence Silberman

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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