Alex Blaze

Homosex, retroactive immunity, and the Senate

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 15, 2008 9:53 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Chris Dodd, FISA, Larry Craig, Partisanship, retroactive immunity

Mike posted about the Senate Ethics Committee's formal admonishment of Larry Craig yesterday. But I wanted to focus a bit more on this part:

“We consider your attempt to withdraw your guilty plea to be an attempt to evade the legal consequences of an action freely undertaken by you — that is, pleading guilty,” the six-member panel said in its letter to Craig.

“In our view, you committed the offense to which you pled guilty and you entered your plea knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently,” the committee wrote. “Even if an attempt to withdraw a guilty plea under the circumstances presented in this case is a course that a defendant in the state of Minnesota may take,... it is a course that a United States senator should not take.”

That's the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday. Here's what the Senate was doing on Tuesday:

The Senate voted Tuesday to shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After nearly two months of stops and starts, the Senate rejected by a vote of 31 to 67 a move to strip away a grant of retroactive legal immunity for the companies.

President Bush has promised to veto any new surveillance bill that does not protect the companies that helped the government in its warrantless wiretapping program, arguing that it is essential if the private sector is to give the government the help it needs.

About 40 lawsuits have been filed against telecom companies by people alleging violations of wiretapping and privacy laws.

The Senate also rejected two amendments that sought to water down the immunity provision.

One, co-sponsored by Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, would have substituted the government for the telecoms in lawsuits, allowing the court cases to go forward but shifting the cost and burden of defending the program.

The other, pushed by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, would have given a secret court that oversees government surveillance inside the United States the power to dismiss lawsuits if it found that the companies acted in good faith and on the request of the president or attorney general.

This has probably been the biggest legislative fight of the last few months, with Bush demanding retroactive immunity for telecoms, Reid capitulating-on-contact, and Dodd's noisy opposition and filibustering. Even though it involved several people running for president, this debate wasn't able to shake the day-to-day coverage of the presidential primaries from the news and get some attention.

But the intellectual dissonance between these two items is huge. Trying to scrape by the rule of law by withdrawing a guilty plea "is a course that a United States senator should not take," but wholly obstructing the rule of law by turning the Senate upside-down to pass retroactive immunity so that large corporations who en masse violated people's privacy and helped prop up a criminally unitary executive is a course that many US senators should take.

I really don't know what this says beyond the fact that this body is obsessed with punishing sex, especially homo sex, but simply won't do anything to try to stop Bush's power grabs, protect civil liberties, or apply the same legal principles to everyone blindly.

The Committee's use of the phrase "reflects discreditably" is key - it's all about image, not substance. I imagine we're supposed to chalk this up as a sign of the times, that Americans have gotten so separated from information on the legislative process by the media and so swamped with information and news on pretty meaningless topics that our collective values have become warped.

Or maybe this is what that lovely post-partisan world we keep hearing about looks like.

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Instead Congress focuses on Larry Craig and baseball. Why bother with things like civil rights protections?


ummmm... they spent an awful lot of time on this bill, bil. they just came up with a bad result all the same. Maybe they deserve a baseball break.