Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gasbags v. Taylor

If you understand legalese, or are in need of a nap, please go read Glenn Greenwald on the misconceptions surrounding Judge Taylor's ruling in the NSA surveillance case. I read his post word for word and then pondered it for a few moments with eyes closed, chin on chest, and hand on mouse. Very refreshing.

(1) There is a fundamental difference between (a) a judicial ruling which reaches the correct legal conclusions but explains and/or analyzes the issues poorly, and (b) a judicial decision which reaches the wrong legal conclusions by using poor legal reasoning, but nonetheless produces desirable political or practical results. The decision from Judge Taylor is in category (a), not category (b), and nobody (at least that I have heard) is arguing that the decision should be celebrated despite its having reached the wrong legal conclusions.

Appellate courts cannot and do not reverse judicial decisions because the opinion was written poorly or because the reasoning was unconvincing. If the Sixth Circuit ends up thinking that this was the worst and most erroneous written opinion ever, but nonetheless agrees with the conclusions the Judge reached but for completely different reasons (on standing, the Fourth Amendment, FISA, etc.), the District Court's decision will be affirmed, not reversed. A bad or poorly reasoned opinion is not grounds for reversal. Only a wrong conclusion constitutes such a ground.

The significance of Judge Taylor's ruling lies in the act itself -- the re-affirmation of the principle that the President's conduct is subject to judicial review and is subordinate to the laws enacted by the American people through their Congress. This administration, while claiming it has substantial legal authority for its radical executive power theories, has desperately tried to avoid judicial review of the President's conduct at every turn --- with the abuse of the "state secrets" doctrine, the Specter bill, the denial of judicial review to detainees, the refusal to ask the FISA court for a ruling on the legality of its program.

The significance of Judge Taylor's ruling lay not in the quality of her judicial opinion (which everyone gets to feel really smart by demeaning), but instead it is the resounding rejection of the extremist and dangerous theory that the President, because of the "war" we are fighting, has the right to operate without constraints of any kind, including those imposed by the Constitution and Congressional statutes. On that key issue, the court's analysis was correct and even powerful. But by all means, let's get on with some more fun, self-glorifying attacks on the lack of scholarly depth of this single opinion from Judge Taylor. That is really the issue on which the fate of Republic depends.

There's an old saying that "emergency knows no law", but it apples to things like running red lights to get to the hospital so your wife doesn't give birth in the car. The so-called "War on Terror" is an ongoing situation and does not rise to the level of an emergency. The NSA program (and others) is a presidential abuse of power designed to expand executive power, cancel out checks and balances, undermine the Constitution, and subjugate the rights of citizens to rule by fiat.

Citizens, not 'subjects'. Notice the similarity between 'subject' and 'subjugate'. Americans are 'citizens', meaning they have a say, at any rate are supposed to, in the way their country is run. Englishmen are 'subjects' of the monarch, and have no say. If I remember my history correctly, I believe there was a war, or insurgency, or uprising, or revolution to create that all-important difference.

Yes, I want the terrorists eavesdropped upon. Sure. The president is no better than the rest of us, in fact not nearly as good as an awful lot of us, and he (not 'He') must obey the law just like the rest of us or he is guilty of a crime, just like the rest of us would be, and he must pay the price, just like the rest of us would.

Bush knows this. Right now he's like a skater on a pond who knows that he's skated over a lot of really thin ice. He can't go back, so he must proceed, and hopes the ice thickens back up.

Hear that cracking sound, Chimp-o? That's the Spring of reason and law starting to thaw out our country after your awful neocon criminal Winter. You're goin' in the water, chump.

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