November 15th, 2007at 07:01pm Posted by Eli

Well, this sounds like a resounding… not-yet-failure:

The Senate Judiciary Committee punted on Thursday over whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly helping the government eavesdrop on Americans.

That decision – the main sticking point in a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – will be left to the full Senate. The FISA law dictates when the government must obtain court permission to conduct electronic eavesdropping, and President Bush has promised to veto any rewrite that does not provide legal immunity to telecom companies. Bush argues that the lawsuits could bankrupt the companies and reveal classified information.

About 40 civil lawsuits have been filed against telecom companies alleging they broke wiretapping and privacy laws.

The Senate panel rejected, 11-8, an attempt to strip the immunity provision out of the bill.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said granting immunity would give the Bush administration a “blank check” to do what it wants without regard to the law. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s top Republican, also is leery of full immunity. He says court cases may be the only way Congress can learn exactly how far outside the law the administration has gone in eavesdropping in the United States.

When the full Senate takes up the bill, Specter is likely to offer a compromise that would shield the companies from financial ruin but allow lawsuits to go forward by having the federal government stand in for the companies at trial.

This kind of reminds me of when they would vote a judicial or AG nominee out of committee without a recommendation. Yeah, Judiciary isn’t actively endorsing the badness, but they’re not really closing the door on it either. And there are so many unreliable Democrats and so few (i.e., zero) principled Republicans willing to cross the aisle to defend the rule of law, that I fear that this may only postpone the inevitable.

As for Specter’s “compromise,” it’s worthless unless it can somehow cut off the administration’s ability to use a “state secrets” defense to thwart the prosecution.

My gut feeling is that Specter’s bogus compromise will carry the day, because it sounds like a reasonable, sensible way to hold the Bush administration accountable, while in actuality ensuring that no-one is held accountable. This will appeal to the Democratic leadership, whose approach to fighting BushCo. is very similar to BushCo’s approach to fighting terrorism: Looking like they’re doing something is far more important than actually doing something.

Which is not to say that it’s not worth fighting. Who knows, maybe there are some senators who simply don’t realize that Specter’s proposal is a scam. Make sure yours does.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Constitution,Democrats,Politics,Terrorism

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