April 20, 2009 | By Kurt Opsahl

Senator Specter: "The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs"

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) published a detailed opinion column in the New York Review of Books today, proposing "legislation to keep the courts open to suits filed against several major telephone companies that allegedly facilitated the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program."

While telecom immunity legislation passed Congress last year, EFF's litigation against the telecommunications giants remains pending before the Court, as Judge Vaughn Walker considers whether the controversial legislation is constitutional. Senator Specter's bill "would substitute the government as defendant in place of the telephone companies."

Senator Specter would also allow the Supreme Court to review "the constitutionality of the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush after September 11." As the Pennsylvanian Republican noted, the "new administration has reasserted the 'state secrets' privilege to block lawsuits challenging controversial policies like warrantless wiretapping." Indeed, the Obama Administration has taken Bush's arguments further.

A simple repeal of the telecom immunity would be better than Specter's substitution proposal. Nevertheless, a real substitution bill (including a waiver of the controversial sovereign immunity arguments raised the the Jewel litigation) would be an important step forward in redressing the violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans. We look forward to reading the proposed legislation, and appreciate that Congress is asserting its critical role as a check on executive powers.


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