The Epitome of Executive Overreach

The Bush administration's abuse of power has sadly continued under Obama.

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The National Security Agency has been collecting phone records of Verizon customers, a newspaper is reporting.
The National Security Agency has been collecting phone records of Verizon customers, a newspaper is reporting.

The price of empire abroad is repression here.

The disclosure that the National Security Agency has asked for and received thousands of phone numbers and the duration of those calls from Verizon is a grave threat to our civil liberties. The Obama administration has defended this practice on the grounds that the information is essential to national security. 

This is not the first time a government has made this kind of request and justified it on the basis of security. In 1759, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The agency's action combined with the administration's monitoring of calls by journalists from the Associated Press and Fox News is an overreach of executive authority and a violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. The 4th Amendment guarantees "The right of people to secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath of affirmation..."

The Foreign Intelligence Security Act provided for a special court of federal judges to approve these kinds of warrants from national security agencies but those courts routinely grant the government the warrants without much scrutiny or justification.

The agency's action also illustrates the dangerous extension of unbridled executive power over national security that has developed since World War II. The Bush/Cheney administration had the dangerous idea that the president's power as commander in chief justified pretty much anything the chief executive wanted to do. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has continued down this path rather than reversing course.

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

The founders established a system of checks and balances in the Constitution that has gone by the boards in national security matters. The authors of the Constitution clearly did not desire unchecked executive authority in matters of war and peace. But that hasn't stopped modern presidents from running roughshod over Congress in the national security area. It has become way too easy for presidents to act unilaterally in the name of national security. Fortunately, members of Congress in both parties have stood up to oppose the executive usurpation of legislative authority.

After President Obama ordered the military to attack Libyan military installations without congressional approval during the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi, members of Congress from both parties joined in a federal court suit against the president's actions.

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One of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, and one of the most liberal members, Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, jointly asked a federal court to issue an injection against the action. The former congressmen argued that the Obama administration's action violated Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution which gives Congress, not the president, the right to start a war.

Once the U.S. Navy and Air Force ended the attacks against Libya, the suit became moot, but it was encouraging to see members of Congress stand up for the body's constitutional prerogatives. Anytime Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich can get together on something like this, there's got to be a problem and perhaps hope that presidents will get the message and reverse course.

Finally, recent presidential actions also beg for a review of U.S. foreign policy. If the extension of American military power abroad leads to constitutional abuses in the United States, we need to be very cautious about our actions overseas.

  • Read Philip Hughes: Obama Promoting Susan Rice to National Security Adviser Shows Extent of His Arrogance
  • Read Boris Epshteyn: What Senator Frank Lautenberg Did for My Jewish Family
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