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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Americans oppose warrantless eavesdropping

Not that this is at all important to Senate Republicans (who are arguing with each other about just how broad the President's power to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants should be), nor to many Senate Democrats (who are having their usual inspirational debate about how quickly and meekly they will capitulate to Republican corruption on this issue), but a solid majority of Americans want our government to be able to eavesdrop only with judicial oversight and approval -- i.e., they favor exactly the law which Americans enacted in 1978 called FISA. From the latest Quinnipiac poll (h/t McJoan):

By a 76 - 19 percent margin, American voters say the government should continue monitoring phone calls or e-mail between suspected terrorists in other countries and people in the U.S., according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. But voters say 55 - 42 percent that the government should get court orders for this surveillance.

Voters in "purple states," 12 states in which there was a popular vote margin of 5 percentage points or less in the 2004 Presidential election, plus Missouri, considered the most accurate barometer of Presidential voting, want wiretap warrants 57 - 39 percent.

Red states, where President George W. Bush's margin was more than 5 percent in 2004, disagree 51 - 46 percent with the President that the government does not need warrants. Blue state voters who backed John Kerry by more than 5 percent want warrants 57 - 40 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

A total of 57 percent of voters are "extremely" or "quite" worried that phone and e-mail taps without warrants could be misused to violate people's privacy. But 54 percent believe these taps have prevented some acts of terror.

"Don't turn off the wiretaps, most Americans say, but the White House ought to tell a judge first. Even red state voters, who backed President Bush in 2004, want to see a court okay for wiretaps," said Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

So, a majority of Americans think the President broke the law, and pluralities in 37 out of 50 states believe the President "clearly" broke the law. Further, a lopsided majority believes that the government must obtain judicial approval before eavesdropping. I wonder what those numbers will be if and when Americans learn that the Administration's eavesdropping on Americans extends beyond the limits which the President repeatedly and falsely assured them exist.

Yup. This is a real political loser for the Democrats. They need to run away from this scandal as fast and far as possible and work with the Administration to sweep it under the rug. Helping George Bush break the law with impunity and sitting by quietly while the Republicans try to give retroactive legality to the President's criminal offenses is exactly the right strategic move here for Democrats.

And it's important for the country that we not get bogged down in partisan squabbling over distracting matters like the rule of law and holding political officials accountable when they commit crimes. Just ask the Democratic consultants whose advice Democrats have been following since 2000. They'll be happy to explain all of that, as always.

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