Sunday, March 12, 2006

Obeying Whenever Possible

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at Georgetown University on March 9, 2006, about Republican proposals for “judicial reform.” The suggestions include extensive impeachment of judges, limitations on jurisdiction, and even the elimination of some courts through budget cuts. Such schemes undermine the independence of judges, she said, and pose a direct threat to the Constitutional freedoms of all Americans. The experiences of developing nations and former Soviet states have shown that judicial reforms prompted by blatantly partisan politics allow tyranny to arise.

When the administration’s broad domestic spying operation was belatedly exposed, polls indicated overwhelming public opposition. Even Republicans expressed concerned and talked about an investigation. But investigating is exactly what they didn’t do. Instead, they adopted new guidelines for eavesdropping, demanding executive requests for warrants only “whenever possible.”

President Eisenhower once wrote that the Constitution means what the Supreme Court justices say it means. But in a democracy, the federal government is also obligated to accept those responsibilities “which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken.” With those thoughts in mind, ask yourself what you believe the Fourth Amendment means:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Given the secrecy surrounding the administration’s activities, it may be years before a legal challenge to the guidelines makes its way to the Supreme Court. If that happens, the ideological disposition of the justices will be a critical factor.


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