Domestic Spying and Executive Power Redux

by Seth Weinberger

In an earlier post, I wrote that the language of the 2001 resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against al Qaeda and international terrorism did not specifically cede power over the domestic arena. Thus, the use of the NSA to monitor the conversations of US citizens in this country without going through the FISA courts was likely both illegal and unconstitutional and could certainly not be justified under Senate Joint Resolution 23.

It turns out that the Bush Administration must have been aware of this problem, as it asked Congress to specifically grant power to prosecute the war on terror domestically. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, former Senator Tom Daschle (who was Senate Majority leader during 9/11 and the passage of SJR 23) writes that “minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text.” If Daschle’s accout is accurate, this is a clear indication that the Bush Administration believed that the resolution as drafted was too narrow for its purposes and would not permit domestic activity, such as intelligence operations against US citizens.

In a concurring opinion to Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, Justice Robert Jackson wrote that the ability of the president to expand his powers depended on the relationship between the desired action and Congress. When Congress has authorized the president to act, the president stands on the most firm legal and constitutional ground. If Congress has been silent, the president has a good case for action, and the question becomes more of a political one. But when Congress has expressly denied the president a particular power, any action to assume that power is highly suspect. Given that the Bush Administration asked for the ability to prosecute the war on terror domestically and was rebuffed, it seems that the question of use of the National Security Agency to spy on US citizens domestically falls into the third category. I am now even more convinced that, as I concluded in the first post on this matter, that this action by President Bush was both illegal and unconstitutional.

Comments are closed.