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January 03, 2006

2006: The Year the Fourth Amendment Disappears?

Hi there. We just returned last night from our travels and we had a most excellent time relaxing and enjoying the company of family and friends. My loved ones spoiled me ridiculously so I have lots and lots of loot to wear, play with, and use in this new year, for all of which I am extremely thankful. Family and friends are the best part of life—something that's easy to forget in the day-to-day when you're far away from them. I'm very much looking forward to finishing law school and finding a job closer to the people I care about and who care about me the most.

Being immersed in all that family goodness for the last 10 days or so meant that I was largely tuned out of what was going on in the world. I tried to follow the domestic spying story but found that the Billings Gazette didn't seem to think it important enough to cover, other than to say the spying was more widespread than was originally thought. Instead I heard bits and pieces about the one-year anniversary of the tsunami, I learned that the Billings, Montana City Council seems pretty spineless, and more recently I heard repeatedly about an Iraqi child with spina bifida who has come to the U.S. for treatment. CNN Headline News seemed obsessed with that story the other day and curiously kept repeating that U.S. troops found the child during a raid on her parents' home. The message seemed to be that it's a great thing for U.S. troops to raid your home because then they can find your disabled child and maybe get her some medical help! Gee, CNN, when you put it that way, I'm thinking maybe we should all hope our homes get raided by U.S. troops! I'm sure they could find something they could help me out with.

The lesson I learned was this: If you depend on your local small-town newspaper and/or CNN for news of what's going on in the world, you're likely to get a really strange, fragmented, and incomplete picture. Oh, how I missed the internets!

And yet, now that I'm back and catching up on what matters to me most at the moment, I'm sickened to learn that just before Christmas 49% of Americans thought Bush's domestic spying was Constitutional and 50% thought it made the country safer. All I can say is that these people do not know their history. When the President starts spying on any American he wants and does so in secret and without any oversight, that can never make anyone safer and if it's only Constitutional if the Fourth Amendment is meaningless. But what's worse is the brazen way Bush continues to claim what he's done (and apparently is continuing to do!) is legal and necessary. Not only that, but he's trying to shift the focus from his own impeachable offenses:

The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States.

No, Mr. President, Whoever “leaked” this to the press is a hero. the fact that you are unilaterally spying on Americans without their knowledge or consent and without any judicial oversight in contravention of the Fourth Amendment is what is causing great harm to the United States.

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!


p.s.: Thanks to Marshall for making my point better than I did in arguing that whether the domestic spying is legal is not the point in terms of this being an impeachable offense. Marshall writes in the comments to that post:

Strictly sepaking, impeachment isn't a criminal remedy. It's way for democratically elected representatives to redress wrongdoing. In the impeachment context, “wrong” is not limited to simply criminal acts. Incompetence or malfeasance or a gross offense against those who elected you will do. I'd say this president has been guilty of all three at various times.

I could not agree more.

Posted January 3, 2006 12:22 PM | general politics life generally

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While I would agree with you that Bush's domestic spying program exceeds the limits of his presidential powers, I reject the idea that Congress can impeach him for any act that does not violate the law. Back when Thomas Jefferson was President, he attempted to impeach Justice Samuel Chase (not to be confused with Chief Justice Salmon Chase) simply becasue he did not agree with the philosphy of the Justice. Jefferson's Solicitor General argued that an official could be impeached simply because Congress beleived another man could do his job better. Your, or rather Marshall's comment, borders on the same philosophy. Moreover, he states the an official can be impeached because of gross offense against those who elected him/her. Would you go so far as to suggest then, that a SC Justice, who has only been elected by the Senate, could be removed from office simply because Congress was offended by his decisions? Impeachment is a drastic step, one that would reflect a watershed event in the history of America. Despite any animosity towards the President that you may feel, you cannot allow articles of impeachment to drawn against an official simply because you dislike or differ from that individual. Ultimately, we must remember that America is government of laws, not of men.

Posted by: keepali at January 3, 2006 03:12 PM

Keepali: Thanks for adding to the conversation. I agree that a SC Justice should not be removed simply b/c he/she offends Congress. However, Marshall also pointed out that impeachment is a remedy for incompetence or malfeasance, as well. Bush has qualified under those criteria several times over.

To be more specific, Article II, Sec. 4 of the U.S. Constitution says that "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Bribery doesn't seem to be on the table (unless the Abramoff scandal reaches that far), which means that the question is: Do Bush's (and Cheney's) actions rise to the level of treason or "other high crimes and misdemeanors"? I would say ordering and boasting about violating the Constitution is treasonous, but that brings us back to whether Bush's domestic spying was constitutional and it seems the prevailing spin on that question is that it's hard to say. That leaves us in the land of "what do you think?" and I think Bush should be impeached.

If you don't  think the domestic spying is impeachable on its own, what about the many other actions he's taken that could qualify him for impeachment? Many of those "crimes" are sketched in the various articles of impeachment that have already been drawn up for Congressional consideration. It's not animosity towards the President that drives these things, but respect and passionate concern for the principles and ideals he has sworn and is bound to uphold.

Posted by: ambimb at January 4, 2006 08:55 AM

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