Friday, December 16, 2005

Is the President above the law?

The New York Times has reported that President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance of Americans inside the United States without seeking a warrant from a court. Here's a link to the story.

If it turns out the reports are true, then President Bush decided he was above the law and gave orders for the NSA to conduct illegal warrantless surveillance that violated the Constitution, the document on which our nation is founded.

This is extremely serious stuff. Yes, we face threats today. But if we agree that the president has carte blanche to take whatever action he deems appropriate to combat terrorism, then we might as well suspend the Constitution and name Bush dictator. That is not an exaggeration--again, if this happened as reported, then President Bush (who reportedly personally authorized wiretapping) set aside the law and decided he need not obey it.

In retrospect, this should not be a surprise. The administration has argued for an incredibly expansive vision of presidential power that basically means during time of war the president can do anything he deems necessary to protect the American people. This is the language of dictatorship. Here's a link to another Times article explaining the administration's theory of sweeping executive power.

I do not mean to suggest that we are living in a Stalinist state. But this is extremely scary stuff. Fortunately, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress seem to recognize that. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Meeting immediately said he would conduct hearings on this matter. Five Republicans joined Democrats in blocking reauthorization of the Patriot Act today, and it seems they were influenced by the secret spying story.

If this story turns out to be true, we are facing a constitutional crisis. Is the executive branch above the law? Can Congress stop the executive from acting in violation of the Constitution? Early signs are encouraging, as Republicans seem stunned and outraged by this revelation. I hope they will maintain their resolve if it becomes clear that the Bush administration has indeed placed itself above the law.


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