Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Sarah in Charge?

Some in the media (or at least Keith Olbermann at MSNBC) are ridiculing Sarah Palin’s recent answer to a third-grader’s question of “What does the Vice President do?”  The part of her response that seems to have people in a tizzy is the following: “[A] Vice President has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the President agenda, they’re like a team member, the teammate to that President. But also, they’re in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes… ” (emphasis added).  Haha, Ms. Caribou Barbie Palin, the wags chortle, don’t you know that the Vice President is only mentioned four times in the Constitution (two of which mentions are in later amendments) and has no power but to break ties in the Senate?

Well, that’s right, except it’s not.  While true that the only formal power the Constitution (specifically Article I, Section 3) gives the VP is to cast the deciding vote when the Senate is deadlocked, the Constitution is understandably silent as to what else the VP can do with his or her time.  Yet nobody would deny that Dick Cheney has been an extremely powerful figure, and not because of any explicit powers but because he has aggressively pushed the Bush Administration’s agenda and lobbied senators (particularly Republicans).  So sure, the VP can have a big effect on policy.

Moreover, the VP is the “President of the Senate,” which is sort of like being in charge – if indeed anyone is in charge of that motley group of wannabe presidents.  This isn’t “in charge” the way a president or CEO is “in charge” – the VP can’t fire senators or force them to vote a given way or veto their bills – but I don’t think anyone can reasonably construe Palin’s comments to imply that.  The most reasonable construction is that she was trying to explain in her own words what being “President of the Senate” means, and could’ve done a lot worse than characterizing it as being “in charge.”

You can read more on this issue in this CBS News posting, which further quotes my thoughts on the matter.

Criticisms Leveled against U.S. Approach to Counterterrorism

The New York Times reports this morning on criticisms leveled by two high-ranking U.K. counterterrorism officials against the United States’ current approach to counterterrorism.

It’s worth having the insights of people who have prosecuted suspects in all the major terrorist attacks in the U.K. since 2005, achieving a 90 percent conviction rate, so you should read the whole thing.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - A Package Deal

News that France will suspend football (soccer) games at which “La Marseillaise” has been booed reveals how the famous credo of that country has fallen into disuse.

A liberal approach toward speech - giving Tunisians in France the liberté to boo their country of residence - would communicate powerfully that France is stronger than such slights - yet still welcoming of Tunisians as frères et soeurs.

The booing wouldn’t last long, as the Tunisians would recognize and appreciate the égalité légale accorded them by France.

Fin.

What They Should Talk About

The Chicago Tribune quotes me this morning on issues the candidates aren’t talking about and may not anticipate. It’s true that issues are likely to arise in the next four years that no one anticipates today. But there are also some issues that are pretty easy to identify that the candidates aren’t being pressed to talk about. Some of those include:

  • The proper role and scope of the federal government. Both candidates have a laundry list of things they want the federal government to do, and maybe they could each mention something they don’t want it to do. But what’s the framework behind their policy choices? What should government do? What should be left to state and local governments, and what should be left to the non-coercive sectors of society? What’s the proper and/or constitutional role and scope of the federal government?
  • The looming entitlements crisis. Entitlements are already about 40 percent of the federal budget. In 20 years they may double as a share of national income. Can we afford that? Do we want a tax burden that high? Do we want that many people dependent on a check from the federal government? Do we have the nerve to say that transfer payments should be cut? Tough choices that nobody wants to confront, partly because each politician hopes that the problem won’t explode until he leaves the scene.
  • We now have 2.5 million people in prison. Isn’t that something to talk about? Should they all they be there? Some 400,000 of them are nonviolent drug offenders. A million arrests don’t stop people from using drugs, and meanwhile the war on drugs costs us some $40 billion a year, increases crime rates, destroys poor neighborhoods, makes criminals out of lots of peaceful people, engenders civil liberties abuses, and funds the Taliban and other nefarious groups abroad.

Thugocracy?

Michael Barone on “The Coming Liberal Thugocracy:”

In September, St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce warned citizens that they would bring criminal libel prosecutions against anyone who made statements against Mr. Obama that were “false.” I had been under the impression that the Alien and Sedition Acts had gone out of existence in 1801-‘02. Not so, apparently, in metropolitan St. Louis. Similarly, the Obama campaign called for a criminal investigation of the American Issues Project when it ran ads highlighting Mr. Obama’s ties to Mr. Ayers.

These attempts to shut down political speech have become routine for liberals. Congressional Democrats sought to reimpose the “fairness doctrine” on broadcasters, which until it was repealed in the 1980s required equal time for different points of view. The motive was plain: to shut down the one conservative-leaning communications medium, talk radio. Liberal talk-show hosts have mostly failed to draw audiences, and many liberals can’t abide having citizens hear contrary views. …

Corporate liberals have done their share in shutting down anti-liberal speech, too. “Saturday Night Live” ran a spoof of the financial crisis that skewered Democrats like House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank and liberal contributors Herbert and Marion Sandler, who sold toxic-waste-filled Golden West to Wachovia Bank for $24 billion. Kind of surprising, but not for long. The tape of the broadcast disappeared from NBC’s Web site and was replaced with another that omitted the references to Mr. Frank and the Sandlers. Evidently NBC and its parent, General Electric, don’t want people to hear speech that attacks liberals.

Read the whole thing. Conservatives are not well-positioned to lodge complaints. Especially McCain.

Cato Law on the Road

Now that we’ve released the Cato Supreme Court Review and the Court has started its new term, I’m on the road quite a bit giving speeches and participating in debates.  Here’s the schedule for my next trip, which starts tomorrow in Atlanta.  All events are open to the public (though the lawyers’ events charge admission):

10/14 at 12pm - Atlanta Federalist Society Lawyers - Kilpatrick Stockton, 1100 Peachtree St.

10/14 at 4pm - Emory Law School - 1301 Clifton Rd., Atlanta

10/15 at 12pm - University of Florida Law School - 2nd Ave. & 25th St., Gainesville

10/15 at 4pm - Florida State University - 425 W. Jefferson St., Tallahassee

10/16 at 11:30am - Florida Coastal School of Law - 8787 Baypine Rd., Jacksonville

10/16 at 5:30 pm - Orlando Federalist Society Lawyers - The Citrus Club, 255 S. Orange Ave., 18th Floor

10/20 at 12pm - University of Miami Law School - 1311 Miller Dr., Coral Gables

If you come to one of these events because you learned of it from this blog post, please do come up and introduce yourself.

More Eavesdropping

Brian Ross of ABC News is reporting allegations from two whistleblowers who say the federal government eavesdropped on hundreds of international phone calls between Americans. The surveillance continued even when there was no indication of espionage or terrorism.

Question for the White House: Is this another disgraceful news report? After all, it reminds the terrorists that the NSA listens in on calls.

Questions for CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Lt. General Keith Alexander: When you say the ‘law’ is always followed, would you remind us as to what, exactly, constitutes illegal eavesdropping? And how many government officials and employees have been disciplined, discharged, or prosecuted for illegal surveillance over the past 10 years?

Question for Congress: What does Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) mean when he says an oversight hearing may be necessary? How many whistleblowers have to come forward to warrant a hearing?

For more, read Glenn Greenwald. For related Cato scholarship, go here.