June 13, 2008 | By Kurt Opsahl

Report: Deal to Stop Courts From Ruling on Illegal Warrantless Wiretaps Imminent

Today The Hill and Congressional Quarterly are reporting that a deal has been reached on legislation to amend FISA, which will include retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Under the guise of a compromise, the legislation is designed to ensure that the only issue the courts will review is whether or not the President told the telecoms that their conduct was legal, but not whether the conduct actually was legal.

Over forty years ago, President Jack Kennedy said "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." We are such a generation, facing down an executive branch that has seized incredible power to violate the laws set forth by Congress under a dubious interpretation of the Constitution.

To maintain our core values and the separation of powers that is integral to our Constitutional system of government, we must allow the Courts to review and rule upon the legality of the President's warrantless surveillance program. Such a ruling effects not only the power of the president to order unlawful surveillance, but will speak to any instance in which the executive branch seeks to unilaterally override the will of the people's house.

The most promising hope of a judicial ruling on the authority of the President to order surveillance in violation of the FISA statute remains the lawsuits against the telecommunications companies who collaborated in NSA program. The ACLU's lawsuit directly against the NSA was already thrown out of court (on procedural grounds, not the merits), and the Administration has already asserted sovereign immunity against any case directly against the government. The options for accountability are dwindling.

With this in mind, the Administration is seeking, desperately, to forestall any judicial review and throw the telecom cases out of court. Working with their allies in Congress, and backed by the lobbying might of some the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, it appears that the Administration is on the verge of sweeping a massive violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans under the rug.

But it is not too late. According to The Hill:

aides said the deal is not final because negotiators have to vet the language within their respective caucuses. One person familiar with the talks said if there are no major objections, the deal could be announced next week.

You have the opportunity to stand up and defend the fundamental freedoms upon which this country was founded, by calling your representatives and asking them to oppose letting the telecoms off the hook. Any deal is no deal unless the courts can rule on the legality of the warrantless surveillance program. Please call today.

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