He doesn’t even need a warrant. At least, that’s what the latest news from the Hill implies. The House just passed H.R. 6407 in December, The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. One provision (among others) is that First Class mail cannot be opened without a warrant. Upon receiving this bill, the president signed it into law while issuing one of the now-infamous “signing statements” asserting his power to ignore the provision against warrantless mail opening. Given this administration’s record of wiretapping its own citizens without a warrant, it’s not a far cry to believe that our mail is being (or will be) opened without any judicial oversight.
There are many people that will argue the information gleaned from such an endeavor is essential to protecting us from terrorist attacks. This is absolutely obvious: there’s a good chance that terrorists are plotting an attack, right now, from within the country, using the mail system to communicate. I want these people’s mail opened and read, but I want it done with the express permission of the courts. Bush cannot justify not obtaining a warrant.
In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was specially designed to give the president and law enforcement maximum authority to spy on whomever they deem a threat to national security. The president can begin spying on any person in the United States a full two weeks before he has to obtain a warrant from the FISA court. Also, all of the FISA court’s proceedings are classified, so there is no problem with public disclosure.
Why then, would Bush want to ignore a provision that protects American citizens from warrantless search? The only explanation is that he is unconcerned with the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution. This is apparent in numerous aspects of his administration’s policies. Take the “signing statements” mentioned above. A signing statement is a tool almost every United States president has used to ignore or interpret a certain specific piece of legislation. On a whim, the president can take any bill he’s signing into law and write a statement allowing him to ignore any part of it.
Because the president is not vetoing the bill, there is no way for Congress to respond short of passing another bill. Over the past 212 years, 42 presidents have issued about 600 signing statements total. Over the past six years, Bush has issued well over 800 signing statements. This astronomical figure shows Bush’s contempt for Congress and the separation of powers. When he uses signing statements to bypass the judicial branch, he effectively removes the teeth from the two largest checks on his power. Congress, trying to reign in Bush’s use of signing statements, passed legislation limiting his authority to issue them. Bush signed it into law, and in his signing statement asserted his authority to ignore it.
This kind of executive bravado cannot be tolerated. Each branch of our government has checks for a reason. Each sidestep around a check on the executive is a step toward fascism. This administration has already illegally wiretapped its own citizens, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and asserted its ability to prevent law-abiding Americans from entering or leaving the country, all without judicial oversight. When Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled against the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program, she reminded the president that “there are no hereditary Kings” in America. We can only hope the new Democratic Congress has enough of a backbone to stand up to Mr. Bush.
Aerospace engineering senior