from the secret-courts-do-bad-things dept
As a former Article III judge, I can tell you that your faith in the FISA Court is dramatically misplaced.The "judges" on the FISA Court are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And that's it. As we were just discussing, they hear only one side of a case, and their rulings are kept secret. When you have a party that only hears one side of things and never, ever has to be subject to public review or criticism of decisions, take a wild guess what happens? You get a court that is judicially captured, and sides very much with the intelligence infrastructure that it spends most of its time dealing with.
Two reasons: One … The Fourth Amendment frameworks have been substantially diluted in the ordinary police case. One can only imagine what the dilution is in a national security setting. Two, the people who make it on the FISA court, who are appointed to the FISA court, are not judges like me. Enough said....
It’s an anointment process. It’s not a selection process. But you know, it’s not boat rockers. So you have a [federal] bench which is way more conservative than before. This is a subset of that. And it’s a subset of that who are operating under privacy, confidentiality, and national security. To suggest that there is meaningful review it seems to me is an illusion.
On top of that, there's a very big question: why are these rulings secret? Something like an interpretation of the law should never, ever be considered secret. Yes, it makes sense to keep something secret if it exposes direct information on a specific case that is being worked on, but basic rulings about what the law actually says should never be. But they are, because the FISA court can do that sort of thing. And that's a huge problem. Late last year, we had a post linking to a story by another former judge, Andrew Napolitano, explaining why the entire FISA court was almost certainly unconstitutional:
The constitutional standard for all search warrants is probable cause of crime. FISA, however, established a new, different and lesser standard -- thus unconstitutional on its face since Congress is bound by, and cannot change, the Constitution -- of probable cause of status. The status was that of an agent of a foreign power.... Over time, the requirement of status as a foreign agent was modified to status as a foreign person. This, of course, was an even lesser standard and one rarely rejected by the FISA court.With everything that's been going on, most of the attention has been on the administration -- including both the NSA and the DOJ -- as well as some companies participating in the various surveillance programs. But, increasingly, it seems that perhaps a lot more attention should be paid to the entire concept and structure of the FISA court.