The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that a Federal Judge is questioning the constitutionality of the law designed to give the telecommunications companies blanket immunity for their illegal wiretaps. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has asked President Obama’s Justice Department to present its views by Wednesday on whether the law gives the attorney general too much power to decide whether a company is immune from lawsuits.
This is some progress, but Obama voted for the law when he was a Senator, and during his confirmation hearings last month, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated he would defend the law.
Under the law, a judge is required to dismiss a wiretapping suit against a telecommunications firm if the attorney general explains the firm’s role to the judge in a confidential statement. The government would say either that the firm had no role or that it participated based on assurances that the president had approved the eavesdropping to protect the nation from terrorism.
Judge Walker rightfully notes that the law appears to set no criteria for the attorney general to use when deciding if he will “grant” immunity for a particular company. I’m guessing it doesn’t because then Presidents Bush/Chenney were fighting to protect their friends. Walker is relying on a 1944 Supreme Court ruling which sets constitutional limits on laws granting power to the President.
Oh, I forgot, under Bush, the Constitution was just a “quaint old document.”