The wheels of law grind slowly…

…but exceedingly fine. Washington Post: Judge Rejects Jailing of Material Witnesses: Ruling Imperils Tool in Sept. 11 Probe. Since September 11, Ashcroft’s Justice Department has been throwing people in jail who are not accused of any crime “to guarantee that [they] will testify before a grand jury.”

Thank goodness for those “unelected judges” who keep sticking their nose into the law and upholding niceties of American justice like “probable cause.”

Free speech (if you say something I like)

Salon: Killing the Messenger. Consider William Harvey: arrested for peacefully carrying a sign and handing out leaflets in New York City. Okay, so his message was that the US brought 9/11 on itself with its handling of relations with Islamic countries, and he was bringing it within a few blocks of Ground Zero.

Naturally there was a crowd and it got ugly. Harvey was arrested for disorderly conduct, although his conduct was apparently pretty calm. Harvey filed a motion to dismiss, which was struck down in mid-February. The judge doing so, Judge Neil Ross of the Criminal Court of the City of New York, argued that disorderly conduct could be charged given “the reaction which speech engenders, not the content of the speech.”

Thanks, judge, for giving the crowd the power to criminalize my speech. I thought protection from that was what the First Amendment was about.

You can avoid Congress, but not the civil service

New York Times: Landscapes Under Siege. The administrative review board for the Interior Department has halted oil exploration in Utah’s Dome Plateau, and “suggested that the bureau had ‘capriciously’ ignored environmental reviews mandated by federal law.” The editorial concludes:

Nobody expects the administration to retreat from its basic theology that aggressive exploration of the public domain is necessary to achieve independence from the energy-producing nations of the Persian Gulf. Perhaps, though, as part of the larger debate over a national energy strategy, the Senate will force the administration to proceed with much greater care.

Yeah, somehow I doubt that the administration that doesn’t even invite the Democratic leadership of Congress to national security meetings will pay much heed to the Senate. I think that the best chance we have for protection against the strong-arm anti-environmental tactics of the Bush administration is the civil servants who have to carry out the policy. Based on this action, they have shown they can do the job.

Shadow government

The New York Times: 60 Feet Under. Maureen Dowd makes some good points here and gets some great zingers:

“Mr. Cheney is Lord of the Rings, ruling over his very own Moria, an underground kingdom of bureaucratic hobbits and orcs….

Without Democrats or journalists, the underground executive branch can operate the way the real executive branch would like to, and frequently does — without a lot of second-guessing, Freedom of Information Act requests, complaints from civil libertarians and attention to the rights of Marin County hot-tubbers.

Nothing will be transcribed. So there will be no reason to clean up the language in President Bush’s transcripts, as the White House has done routinely since 9/11.”

Interesting question. We’ve always assumed that we get full access to the running of our government, with the exception of stuff that we really don’t want to know about (national security). There’s the rub–this administration thinks everything it does is “national security.” And it doesn’t want to share anything with the people’s representatives in the Congress, either.

Maybe Tom Daschle should talk to Bill Clinton, who came back from being made almost irrelevant by Newt Gingrich. He might have some advice on how to restore checks and balances on a political power hellbent on eliminating them.

GAO vs. White House over Enron: Bets, folks?

My wife: “This should be very interesting. Someone’s career is probably over.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, was named Walker v. Cheney. Walker is David M. Walker, the U.S. Comptroller General and head of the General Accounting Office of Congress. Cheney is Richard B. Cheney, the vice president and head of the administration’s energy task force, the focus of the litigation.


A fuller context for that quotation

A more complete version and a citation for the quotation I just posted, courtesy the Bully Pulpit:

” The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”
“Lincoln and Free Speech” in The Great Adventure – vol. 19 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt New York: Scribner’s, 1926 Chapter 7, p.289


That damned inconvenient history

Beautiful quotation from Theodore Roosevelt in today’s Doonesbury. It is perhaps noteworthy that Roosevelt said this in 1918, when he was an ordinary citizen. Are you listening, Mr. Ashcroft?:

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”


“Aid and comfort” rears its ugly head

Free speech must be getting Ashcroft down:

“To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve… They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.”


And no, I don’t mean blank checks

Ashcroft finds himself on the stand today before Congress. This is an interesting example of checks & balances in action. Good old Patrick Leahy: even after being an anthrax letter recipient, he can still say things like “I want to make sure after we’re all gone that the Constitution is still here…It’s not always popular upholding the Constitution, but it’s always the right thing to do.”

Threat or Dissent?

It’s good to know that the war against terrorism is protecting us from protected speech:

“Do you have a warrant?” Brown asked. They did not. “Then you’re not coming in my apartment,” she said. And indeed, they stayed outside her doorway. But they stayed a while–40 minutes, Brown estimates–and gave her a taste of how dissenters can come under scrutiny in wartime.

And all because of a poster on her wall.


Chilling net access to fight terrorism?

Ok, so it’s unlikely that this is a purposeful move to disenfranchise Somalis who want to communicate their plight with the rest of the world. But this is still one of the scarier headlines I’ve seen lately: US shuts down Somalia internet, says the BBC: “Somalia’s only internet company and a key telecoms business have been forced to close because the United States suspects them of terrorist links.”

The morning civil liberties roundup

Good morning! I have to get some work done this week, so I’m making a pact with you, my reader. I will only write about hideous abuses of power and civil liberties once a day, so I can do it once and then ignore it, and I’ll start tagging those hideous abuses with a special icon, so you can ignore them if you want to. How’s that?

Speaking of civil liberties, my lawyer friend Greg is somewhat fixated on that side of the problem right now. He’s a born blogger, but has never set up one of these sites for himself–that could have something to do with the fact that he’s actually employed ;). He writes,

At The Nation , you can read about a detainee — since that’s what we’re calling them — who died while being held. Well, so much for our first plaintiff …

There’s a great description of the synergies between the new detention, eavesdropping and tribunal rules at Slate, courtesy of Slate magazine’s very own lawyer babe [and wickedly funny writer] Dahlia Lithwick.

Finally, at Findlaw, a link to the most inspiring legal opinion I read during law school — and it just happens to be about a man detained on Ellis Island until he could return home, oh, and don’t mind that he had no country to return to. Read the dissent by Justices Jackson and Frankfurter; search for the clause “Frankfurter joins, dissenting” to find the starting point. The parallels with current times should roll out with the very first sentence.

Even though the detainee lost, it’s cases like that one that remind me of the worth of studying law.