Wednesday, December 28, 2005

FISA Court: Rubber Stamp?

In a New York Times op-ed defending the president's warrantless wiretapping of international calls and emails, former Justice Department attorneys (under GHWB and Reagan) David Rivkin and Lee Casey write:
Furthermore, the FISA court is not a rubber stamp and may well decline to issue warrants even when wartime necessity compels surveillance.
It's not? Let's take a closer look (stats from EPIC by way of Talking Points Memo). The FISA court, established in 1978, had received 18,761 requests for warrants as of the end of 2004. How many were rejected? Four or five (sources disagree). Of the four which were definitely rejected (all from 2003), all four were partially approved upon reconsideration. And how many have been modified by the court from the original requests?

1978-1999: 0 (?)
2000: 1
2001: 2
2002: 2 (but the modifications were later reversed)
2003: 79 (of 1727 requests)
2004: 94 (of 1758 requests)

It looks to me like the FISA court was a rubber stamp at least until 2003, and quite arguably still is.

Rivkin and Casey go on to argue that Congress has no authority to regulate how the President exercises his wartime authority:
The Constitution designates the president as commander in chief, and Congress can no more direct his exercise of that authority than he can direct Congress in the execution of its constitutional duties.
Say what? Have they not read Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly gives Congress authority to regulate many aspects of military and wartime activity? I've italicized a key passage:
Congress shall have the power ...

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

... And

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.
Rivkin and Casey argue that the executive branch is given the power to collect intelligence information from foreign sources as it sees fit--but where in the Constitution is any such power granted to the executive branch? Their only citation is to Article II, Section 2:
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States
but there's no specific authority there about intelligence collection. They go on to argue that the President has the authority not only in virtue of this piece of the Constitution, but from
the specific Congressional authorization "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks "in order to prevent any future attacks of international terrorism against the United States."
But Congress is still limited by the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights still applies (or is supposed to, anyway) to every U.S. citizen.

One more abominably bad argument from Rivkin and Casey is that the Bush administration was warranted in bypassing the FISA court for reasons of efficiency and expedience:
Although the administration could have sought such warrants, it chose not to for good reasons. The procedures under the surveillance act are streamlined, but nevertheless involve a number of bureaucratic steps.
They don't bother to tell us what any of these "good reasons" are! Since the FISA court allows retroactive approvals (go ahead and tap, then get approval later), there is no issue of urgency as an argument against getting the approvals. The only reason I can see is to avoid any accountability.

Arguments that the FISA Court itself gave approval to being bypassed in 2002 are based on a misreading of a ruling by the FISA appeals court.

Enjoy Every Sandwich has a nice collection of Bush administration quotes and relevant law regarding wiretapping.

1 comment:

dj said...

Bush did not have the right under any law in the constitution to do the wiretapping. He never truly declared war but neither did Johnson in Vietnam or Bush Sr. in the First Gulf War. They NEVER got Congress to declare war. Yawl are the first to ever understand the meaning of those amendments.