Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ready, Fire, Aim, at 1600 Pennsylvania

A famous episode in which he nearly shot himself and a lobbyist friend isn't the only thing for which former congressman Bill Barr is known. Still, in an editorial in this week's TIME, the famously eccentric Georgia Republican fires some shots against the Bush administration. Barr, who served from 1994 to 2002, expostulates on the Bush administration's illicit wire taps. He draws parallels between Nixon and Bush and offers "robust" emergency provisions of the Patriot Act as alternatives. The President can approve warrantless taps as long as court approval comes within three days. Writes Barr:

If that degree of flexibility does not suit a President, it is hard to imagine what provision would. And if the President thought the law governing eavesdropping was misguided or impractical, he should have proposed amendments.

Peppering the piece with historical allusions, Barr draws an unfavorable analogy between Bush and Andrew Jackson, who famously said of the Supreme Court decision on American Indian homelands, "Let them enforce it." Barr warns that "tomorrow it may be your phone calls or emails that will be swept up into our electronic infrastructure."

Retirement and a reputation for being a firebrand allow leeway in making one's opinions known, but Barr should still be commended for his independence. His balanced and thoughtful criticisms will have more influence than partisan rhetoric. Let's hope someone is listening.

EDIT: At the U of C law school blog, Prof. Geoffrey Stone has a good discussion of the issue.

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