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The Asylum

Welcome to the Asylum. This is a site devoted to politics and current events in America, and around the globe. The THREE lunatics posting here are unabashed conservatives that go after the liberal lies and deceit prevalent in the debate of the day. We'd like to add that the views expressed here do not reflect the views of other inmates, nor were any inmates harmed in the creation of this site.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

And The Critics Continue To Come Out Against Judge Taylor

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor assured herself of her fifteen minutes of fame in history when she ruled that the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program was unconstitutional. In doing so, she did a grave disservice to the legal community, and a fair number of her like-minded colleagues have beaten on this judge "like a bongo drum" over her philosophy. Clearly, after one reads the decision, we can see that there is no merit for the suit to be brought before the courts in the first place (Judge Ellis's recent decision in the AIPAC case set precedent that national security is not superceded by the First Amendment), nor does her Fourth Amendment assertions hold any water when it comes to the gathering of foreign intelligence.

Today, David Rivkin, Jr. and Lee Casey in the Washington Times took Judge Taylor to task:

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's recent opinion striking down the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program is neither an accurate statement of what the law is nor of what it should be. To her credit, Judge Taylor made no secret of how she approached this case.

Early in her opinion she refers to "the War on Terror of this administration." In other words, this is not her war and it's not America's war, it's George W. Bush's war, and the judge was clearly determined to hold at least one aspect of that war — the NSA surveillance program — unconstitutional. She did so based on a deeply flawed rationale.

This shows the personal bias of Judge Taylor in her decision. She does not like the president, feels this war is wrong, and more importantly, believes (incorrectly, I might add) that steps such as the NSA TSP is unconstitutional. Such interpretations are wrong, and a roll-back of these policies threatens to harm this nation greatly.

Most critics have challenged the program's legality on statutory, rather than constitutional, grounds. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) generally requires a special judicial order before the government can intercept electronic communications for foreign intelligence purposes, except as otherwise "authorized by statute." The Bush administration argues that the NSA program was authorized by statute in the form of Congress' Sept. 18, 2001, Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

That law authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for the September 11 attacks, and the Supreme Court has already interpreted the AUMF, in its 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld ruling, to provide statutory permission for all of the "fundamental incident of waging war." This case was not affected by the court's more recent war on terror decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where it concluded — based on a different statutory text that was not impacted by the AUMF — that military commission rules must be consistent with those applied in regular courts-martial.

But in refusing to observe the precedent from Hamdi, Judge Taylor ventured into virtually uncharted waters of jurisprudence. Indeed, there is no sign in her decision that she even considered the relevant statutes in connection with the authorization of this program.

Obviously, many believe that electronic surveillance in the United States is just too far removed from the "fundamental incidents of war" to have been justified, without more specific language, by the AUMF. Judge Taylor, however, fails to confront or answer the administration's actual Hamdi/AUMF argument. Instead, she concluded that the NSA program would be unconstitutional even if authorized by Congress in the AUMF. She based this extraordinary ruling on a misconstruction of both the Fourth and First Amendments.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures," and requires that search warrants be issued only on a probable cause showing. The Supreme Court has ruled that most warrantless searches are unreasonable, except in cases of "special needs." Special needs cases include instances where individuals are leaving or entering the United States, and are very similar to the international or trans-boundary communications subject to the NSA program. Judge Taylor does not reconcile this important exception to the general rule with her sweeping claims that prior warrants are required "for any reasonable search."

Nor did she grapple with cases — including the Fourth Circuit's leading decision in United States v. Truong (1980) — upholding warrantless surveillance for foreign intelligence gathering purposes. Truong involved the wiretapping of a Vietnamese citizen and his U.S. contact, as part of an effort to discover who was leaking classified information. The court upheld the surveillance under the Fourth Amendment since the government's primary purpose had been collection of foreign intelligence information — rather than a criminal investigation. Truong and the 2002 FISA Appeals Court's opinion in In re Sealed Case are not, of course, Supreme Court decisions binding on Judge Taylor. But, at a minimum, she should have acknowledged the existence of such important contrary authority, and explained why she considered a different rule to be more appropriate.

I disagree that the FISA Court of Review's decision does not apply to Judge Taylor's reasoning. It is a decision handed down by the courts, and it contains a valuable rebuttal to the critics of those who believe the president is violating the Constitution when he engages in warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance. But to go back to Judge Taylor's decision, the original Truong case specifically stated the following:

For several reasons, the needs of the executive are so compelling in the area of foreign intelligence, unlike the area of domestic security, that a uniform warrant requirement would, following [United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972)], “unduly frustrate” the President in carrying out his foreign affairs responsibilities. First of all, attempts to counter foreign threats to the national security require the utmost stealth, speed and secrecy. A warrant requirement would add a procedural hurdle that would reduce the flexibility of executive foreign intelligence activities, in some cases delay executive response to foreign intelligence threats, and increase the chance of leaks regarding sensitive executive operations.

The Supreme Court ruled that such encroachments upon executive branch powers would "unduly frustrate" the president when it came to protecting this nation through the use of surveillance. Again, this goes to the "special needs" jurisprudence regarding the Fourth Amendment. The president must be able to take steps necessary to protect the nation, and filing for a warrant every time he wishes to exercise this power does counteract his authority. And they justified their decision by pointing to two possibilities if the president's authority was not upheld. Either it would delay action to protect the nation, or it ran the risk of being leaked, thereby making our enemy change its tactics.

Most troubling of all, however, is Judge Taylor's First Amendment analysis. She concluded that the NSA program violated free speech guarantees because the president "undisputably violated the Fourth Amendment in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well." In fact, a Fourth Amendment violation does not necessarily or even likely result in a First Amendment violation. Although, as Judge Taylor noted, the Supreme Court has recognized that "[n]ational security cases ... often reflect a convergence of First and Fourth Amendment values," the amendments' purposes and protections are distinct, as are the analyses necessary to determine whether one or both have been violated.

To have a First Amendment standing, the plaintiffs have to show that they were "injured" in general; not individually. But her interpretation of the plaintiffs injury is an acceptance of their argument. That they were unable to communicate with our enemies (these were lawyers and journalists bringing the suit) because our enemies felt "chilled" by the program. To them, the existence of the NSA program unduly confounds their ability to speak with these people. Unfortunately, we do have people who believe that they should be able to talk to our enemies without any sort of intereference despite evidence that people like this, if they believe in the cause of our enemies they want the ability to help them without any sort of governmental constraints.

Critically, the Fourth Amendment permits government action based upon probable cause, while the First Amendment requires regulation of protected speech to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest.

Standards aside, the logical implications of Judge Taylor's First Amendment conclusions are unprecedented. If the NSA program's very existence impermissibly "chilled" plaintiffs, several advocacy groups, lawyers and journalists, in speaking with known or suspected terrorists overseas, and the terrorists in speaking with them, then the government can never intercept foreign intelligence — with or without congressional approval or a warrant — unless it also can show that the program is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. The courts rarely find this standard to be met.

Judge Taylor has had a long and distinguished career — serving on the federal bench since 1979. In this opinion, however, she has served neither justice nor the rule of law. It will be up to the court of appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court to set things right.

And the Sixth will find that Judge Taylor's logic is equally distressing and twisted. With a little hope, and a healthy dose of reviewing her decision, it should be overturned quickly. The stay was issued for a reason; obviously the Sixth Circuit Court recognized the problem with her jurisprudential reasoning.



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