Arlen Specter: "Read the Constitution? That's a court's job, not a Senator's"

Slate's blog on legal issues.
July 10 2008 3:41 PM

Arlen Specter: "Read the Constitution? That's a court's job, not a Senator's"

This week's passage and enactment of the FISA amendments ( H.R. 6304 ) was not without controversy (obviously), but I was particularly struck by an aspect of the story that's received remarkably little attention:  Sen. Arlen Specter sponsored an amendment ( S.Amdt.5059 ) to the particularly controversial grant of immunity to telecoms that had worked with NSA; under his amendment, such immunity would have been contingent upon a court's determination that the telecom's activities were "provided in connection with an intelligence activity that violated the Constitution of the United States."

What a spectacle: a United States Senator -- a former prosecutor and the senior Republican on the S e nate Judiciary Committee, no less! -- effectively declared himself to be incapable of determining what the Constitution does and does not proscribe.  (Of course, Senator Specter was not alone:  37 senators voted for his ill-conceived amendment .)

Advertisement

Specter's attempt to pass the buck on this constitutional question should disturb both proponents and critics of the NSA surveillance activities at issue.  That said, and as I've noted previously , Senator Specter's approach to the issue of the constitutionality of NSA surveillance activities is but one example of his tendency to (1) punt controversial issues to the courts, yet (2) loudly chastise the courts for "denigrat[ing] ... congressional authority" when the politics winds suit the change in approach.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.