Thursday, December 29, 2005

FISA vs. the Constitution

FISA vs. the Constitution

Can Congress usurp the Constitutional powers of the President? The answer is "No" barring a Constitutional amendment. Have they tried anyway? Robert F.Turner, writing in the WSJ, says the answer is "Yes":
Space does not permit a discussion here of the congressional lawbreaking that took place in the wake of the Vietnam War. It is enough to observe that the Constitution is the highest law of the land, and when Congress attempts to usurp powers granted to the president, its members betray their oath of office. In certain cases, such as the War Powers Resolution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it might well have crossed that line.
Turner argues that the delegation of war powers to the President is clear and cannot be overridden by any law passed by Congress, even though signed by the then-sitting President:
Keep in mind that while the Carter administration asked Congress to enact the FISA statute in 1978, Attorney General Griffin Bell emphasized that the law "does not take away the power of the president under the Constitution." And in 1994, when the Clinton administration invited Congress to expand FISA to cover physical as well as electronic searches, the associate attorney general testified: "Our seeking legislation in no way should suggest that we do not believe we have inherent authority" under the Constitution. "We do," she concluded.
Intelligence gathering is implicitly a part of these powers and the need for secrecy, including secrecy from Congress, was noted by Benjamin Franklin "
In 1776, Benjamin Franklin and his four colleagues on the Committee of Secret Correspondence unanimously concluded that they could not tell the Continental Congress about covert assistance being provided by France to the American Revolution, because "we find by fatal experience that Congress consists of too many members to keep secrets."
Turner concludes as follows:
Our Constitution is the supreme law, and it cannot be amended by a simple statute like the FISA law. Every modern president and every court of appeals that has considered this issue has upheld the independent power of the president to collect foreign intelligence without a warrant. The Supreme Court may ultimately clarify the competing claims; but until then, the president is right to continue monitoring the communications of our nation's declared enemies, even when they elect to communicate with people within our country.