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Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

Lapdogs, Weasels, and the Presidential Race

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While all eyes are on who announces next in the race to be the next president, we can't afford to overlook the role of the third branch of government, the Supreme Court, both in curbing the rank expansionism of the presidency, as well as in protecting and preserving much-needed oversight. Despite the best attempts of current leadership, in Washington, democracy was intended to be a collaborative effort, and not an exercise in unitary authoritarianism.

While the war in Iraq may be regarded as a huge policy failure with respect to our foreign policy, it has worked wonders to deflect attention away from this administration's ongoing domestic war on our civil liberties. The Supreme Court may soon be faced with a major challenge, and one which deserves attention every bit as much as the flawed, and deceptive agenda that brought us to Iraq.

One year ago today, our president openly conceded that he gave the green light to the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without a warrant, on the phone calls and electronic communications of ordinary citizens under the pretext of curbing "terrorist links." And, to this day,the federal government continues its illicit program of warrantless spying on average Americans. Moreover, efforts on the part of the new Democratic majority in Congress to curb NSA eaves dropping might well result in a "constitutional showdown." (AP)

Plans by Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist that a warrant be issued before a person's phone may be tapped may well succumb to a presidential veto. We've seen how this president has used signing statements, and can predict reasonably well that he will exercise his veto option as imperiously, and excessively, in which case the Supreme Court will end up being "the decider" when reviewing the legality of the NSA program, as well as other dubious legislation this administration has attempted to push through under the abysmal abstraction of "terror." The ACLU is already preparing to challenge the constitutionality of warrantless government spying, on January 31, in a Cincinnati court.

While a government's defiance of the FISA law to snoop on the activities of its citizens is a large issue, the larger issue is whether the weasel words "national security" may be employed to sabotage those protections guaranteed to us by the First Amendment. So, whether it is John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, Barack Obama, John McCain, Rudy Guiliani, Ralph Nader, indeed, whomever opts to grace us with their candidacy needs to show us that they will not follow in the footsteps of those weasels who, in their uniquely beguiling and clever way, perform a "hypnotic dance" for their prey to deflect attention away from the true intent which is to consume, and conquer in the name of democratizing. We have a right, indeed, a responsibility, to ask each and every candidate who plans to run for president what his or her viewpoint is with regard to the autonomy of the Supreme Court, as well as what qualities they will look for in choosing a justice to the highest court in the land.

Optimism never hurts, and we have reason to be optimistic in that there are only two more years left in which to suffer the kind of stasis that has resulted in mass casualties in Iraq, and divine neglect with respect to the domestic agenda here at home. On the other hand,this administration has two more years for yet another opportunity to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

The attorney general, and all the president's men, have consistently articulated their intent to transform the court not merely into a vehicle for their neo-con agenda, but into a permanent lapdog. Mr. Gonzales' calls for more humility from the court should send shivers up and down the spine of every American as should any efforts to neutralize the third arm of government. It was, after all, the Supreme Court that decided on a woman's right to choose and we will likewise look to the court to determine whether an executive order can circumvent both an extant law (FISA) and our constitutional right to privacy. In the final analysis, it may well be up to the Supreme Court, and not Congress, to speak power to power, and to hold at bay an administration for whom the only "checks" and balances that count are the ones with six figures printed on them.

So, when surfing the Web, or your digital TV lineup next fall, and listening to the campaign rhetoric of all those who toss their hats into the presidential ring, keep in mind that while a president can do a lot of damage, they only have eight years; a Supreme Court judge is appointed for life. It is essential to know where each and every candidate, for president, stands on the question of the autonomy of the court, as well as the role of the executive branch in times of war and peace.