The Least Obama Could Do for Civil Liberties

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has just fired off a letter to Barack Obama urging him to finally appoint some members to the long-vacant Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, echoing a similar recent request from a coalition of civil liberties groups.

I don’t think anyone should make excuses for Obama’s appalling about-face on Patriot Act reform, but at least in that case there’s a real, difficult, and complex policy debate that needs to play out in a preoccupied Congress for anything to happen. But there is no reason whatever that seats on this board should sit vacant a year into this presidency. Congress agreed to create the independent board—after a predecessor within the White House was deemed to lack sufficient independence—back in 2007. There’s agreement that the board is needed; the president just needs to pick people to sit on it. Yet there are precious few signs he’s even conducting a serious search. After a long series of decisions that have appalled civil libertarians, staffing the watchdog group Congress created three years ago is, quite literally, the absolute least Obama could do to begin living up to his campaign rhetoric.