Senator Introduces Bill To Ban Practice Allowing Bush To Secretly Change Meaning Of Laws
September 17, 2008
The Bush administration’s practice of relying on classified legal “opinions” from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council to reinterpret laws to mean whatever the president needs them to mean has produced such gems as “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation.”
With George W. Bush just a few short months from returning to his Texas ranch full time, two Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prevent the White House’s next occupant from engaging in similar efforts to rewrite the law.
“This administration has used OLC opinions to develop a secret set of binding rules that fly in the face of laws passed by Congress on matters ranging from torture to warrantless wiretapping,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said in a news release. “By hiding these opinions from view, the administration prevents Congress from restoring the rule of law through oversight or legislation. This bill represents an important step toward curbing secret law and restoring the balance of power between the White House and Congress.”
Feingold, who has been among the fiercest critics of the administration’s power grabs, introduced the OLC Reporting Act in the Senate, with Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) introducing companion legislation in the House. It’s unlikely the bill will be passed this year — and even if it was, Bush would almost certainly veto it — but the legislation provides a starting point for the next Congress to begin undoing Bush’s damage.
According to a release from Feingold’s office, the bill would:
· Require the Attorney General to notify Congress within 30 days when the Justice Department issues a legal opinion that:
o concludes that a federal statute is unconstitutional;
o relies on the “doctrine of constitutional avoidance,” which was used by Yoo and his colleagues to justify strained interpretations of the law;
o relies on other interpretive tools to avoid applying the law to the executive branch; or
o decides that a federal law has been repealed by a later statute when the later statute does not say so explicitly.
· Retain existing statutory protections for privileged information, while ensuring that Congress receives the information necessary to perform its legislative and oversight functions.
· Protect national security through special procedures for the submission of classified information.
Feingold recently held hearings on Bush’s reliance on secret law in the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, which he chairs.
The Wisconsin Democrat is among the Senate’s fiercest civil libertarians and was an outspoken opponent of the Foreign Intelligence Service Act amendments Congress adopted earlier this year. In keeping with his focus on instituting corrections in the next administration, Feingold held a hearing Tuesday on restoring the rule of law.