Uncle Sam is watching you

by Shahid Buttar, Bill of Rights Defense Committee

This week, Congress prepares to abuse the Constitution again, by extending its 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). With the House of Representatives approving a premature five year extension by a vote of 301-118, did members remember what they heard when theatrically reading the Constitution on the House floor, or instead entrench the Bush-Cheney legacy beyond even the next administration?

When Congress first voted back in 2008 to give the National Security Agency the power to eavesdrop on any—in other words, every–American without any reason for individual suspicion, it did so without a full picture of what it allowed. Indeed, the full contours of the program remain secret even today.

The only reason the NSA’s spying powers have survived this long is because courts have refused to consider claims that they are unconstitutionally invasive. The Supreme Court will consider one such case this fall — which, if successful, will merely allow the several year process of a litigation challenge to finally begin.

Even though much of it remains shrouded in secrecy, we do know a few things about the NSA’s warrantless spying program authorized by FISA.

We know that it began illegally, without any authorization by Congress and in clear violation of the FISA law crafted by Congress in the 1970s to stop our government from spying on Americans.

We know it is so vast and unchecked that, nearly ten years ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to authorize it, even despite coercion from the Bush White House.

We know that an architect of the program, alarmed at how his work was co-opted to abuse the rights of Americans, blew a whistle about fraud and waste, only to face prosecution by the Obama Administration for espionage–until a federal court ultimately told the government to stop chasing a loyal servant of the American people.


Interstate Compacts, a Clarification

On last night’s episode of Tenther Radio, Health Care Compacts were the primary discussion. (listen to the show here). There was a constitutional issue that was a sticking point – how do Interstate Compacts become valid?

Let’s begin with the Constitution, Article I, Section 10:

“No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State…”

Our guest, Ralph Weber, was pointing out that efforts to use a Health Care Compact to stop Obamacare were a bad choice because Congress and the President would have to approve. Later in the show, I made the point that only congress would have to consent and the President was not needed to approve a state compact.

A listener commented during the show, and Ralph also emailed something similar, backing up the first view:

“Article 1 section 7 clause 3 says Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitation prescribed in the Case of a Bill.”

The view? That “article 1, section 7 clauses 2 and 3 are VERY clear, the president must sign.”

I checked with Rob Natelson after the show. Rob’s one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars. His meticulous studies of the Constitution’s original meaning have been published or cited by many top law journals. And, he’s the author of the book, “The Original Constitution.” Here’s what he had to say about this question:


Groundhog Day II: The Fiscal Cliff

Back in May, I said that Congress would avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ by agreeing to some sort of deal that would effectively kick the can down the road (yet again). According to Politico, a group of Senators are considering a can-kicking idea that immediately brought to my mind the movie Groundhog Day: Several sources said the lawmakers are working on…