January 19, 2006

THE EAVESDROPPING EXPRESS:

Administration Lays Out Legal Case for Wiretapping Program (ERIC LICHTBLAU, 1/19/06, NY Times)

The Bush administration today offered its fullest defense of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying that congressional authorization to defeat Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the N.S.A. activities."

In a 42-page white paper, the Justice Department expanded on its past arguments in laying out the legal rationale for why the N.S.A. program does not violate federal wiretap law and why the president is the nation's "sole organ" for foreign affairs.

The defense comes at a critical time in the administration's effort to quell the growing political uproar over the N.S.A. program. House Democrats will be holding their first hearing Friday on the legality of the program, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled another hearing in two weeks. A number of legal analysts, meanwhile, including those at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, have questioned the legality of the program in strong terms.

But the Bush administration appears undeterred by the criticism. In its white paper, it turned time and again to the congressional authorization of Sept. 14, 2001, even though the Congressional Research Service study was particularly skeptical of this line of defense.


YOUNGSTOWN CO. v. SAWYER, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) (MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, concurring in the judgment and opinion of the Court)
The actual art of governing under our Constitution does not and cannot conform to judicial definitions of the power of any of its branches based on isolated clauses or even single Articles torn from context. While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government. It enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity. Presidential powers are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress. We may well begin by a somewhat over-simplified grouping of practical situations in which a President may doubt, or others may challenge, his powers, and by distinguishing roughly the legal consequences of this factor of relativity.

1. When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate. 2 In these circumstances, [343 U.S. 579, 636] and in these only, may he be said (for what it may be worth) to personify the federal sovereignty. If his act is held unconstitutional under these circumstances, it usually means that the Federal Government [343 U.S. 579, 637] as an undivided whole lacks power. A seizure executed by the President pursuant to an Act of Congress would be supported by the strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.

2. When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain. Therefore, congressional inertia, indifference or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent presidential responsibility. In this area, any actual test of power is likely to depend on the imperatives of events and contemporary imponderables rather than on abstract theories of law.

3. When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter. Courts can sustain exclusive presidential control in such a case only by disabling [343 U.S. 579, 638] the Congress from acting upon the subject. Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2006 10:07 PM
Comments

"the growing political uproar"

Is this wishful thinking or what.

I guess Lichtblau is unfamiliar with the recent Fox poll.

The uproar would be if the President hadn't acted as he did.

These hearings are free advertisement for the administration. Wonder if we can get them strung out til Nov.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 20, 2006 12:40 AM

Why does the Times use wiretapping in the headline when there are no wires involved?

Posted by: erp at January 20, 2006 9:07 AM

erp:

They are stuck in the 1970s in more ways than one.

Posted by: ratbert at January 20, 2006 10:01 AM

Of course, since there're no eaves involved either, can it still be called eavesdropping then? This issue is so silly, it's difficult to take it seriously.

Posted by: erp at January 20, 2006 11:47 AM
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