Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Please, Tell Me There's Video Of This

Not too long ago, I wrote that I was really starting to like Sen. Al Franken. It's still early in his career, of course. He could go off the rails and turn into a lefty Jim Bunning or a lefty Arlen Specter. But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

Today, while the Senate Judiciary Committee was interviewing a Department of Justice official about the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment:

Franken, who opened by acknowledging that unlike most of his colleagues in the Senate, he’s not a lawyer, but according to his research “most Americans aren’t lawyers” either, said he’d also done research on the Patriot Act and in particular, the “roving wiretap” provision that allows the FBI to get a warrant to wiretap a an unnamed target and his or her various and changing cell phones, computers and other communication devices.


“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking [DoJ Assistant Attorney General David] Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target.

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official

I'll get to the DoJ official's response in a moment, but first I should probably quote the amendment, which doesn't get mentioned often enough to suit me:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The part I emphasized is the part Franken emphasized, which explicitly says that the persons and things to be seized must be explicitly identified. The PATRIOT Act tries to make it legal to tap someone without identifying him by name. Incredibly, as the DoJ witness pointed out, this appears to be OK with the courts:

Kris looked flustered and mumbled that “this is surreal,” apparently referring to having to respond to Franken’s question. “I would defer to the other branch of government,” he said, referring to the courts, prompting Franken to interject: “I know what that is.”

Kris explained that the courts have held that the law’s requirements that the person be described, though not named, is sufficient to meet the demands of the Constitution. That did not appear to completely satisfy Franken’s concerns.

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official

Franken seems to be able to take nonsense with good humor, which is a good thing. He's going to hear a lot of it in his new job. Kris's answer, technically speaking, is correct, but it's yet another reason that I say the Obama Administration is effectively no different from the Bush Administration on this point.

As I say, it's early in Franken's career. Nevertheless, I wish we had about fifty more Al Frankens in the Democratic Senate Caucus right now.

(h/t Earthbound Misfit)

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