Thursday, January 04, 2007

Let Bush read your mail

Speaking of civil liberties, here's Bush's opening salvo for 2007.

President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a signing statement that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush's defense -- that a looming emergency, such as a ticking bomb, overrides such protections -- rings hollow, since such exceptions are already clearly enshrined in law, and his language, which cites "exigent circumstances", is far broader than such exceptions. Further, a warrant to search specific, suspect mail would not be hard or time-consuming to get. So it's difficult to see what the point of the signing statement is except to enlarge the exceptions beyond recognition.

Here's the text of the signing statement, in full. The bill itself was H.R. 6407 from the 109th Congress; you can find the full text of it on Thomas (see the sidebar for a link).

Side note: Beyond the statement on opening mail, Bush also rejected a rule requiring postal governors to represent the public interest, be chosen solely on the basis of their experience in public service, law, accounting or running a major organization, and not be representatives of "specific interests using the Postal Service". He also rejected a deadline to appoint an inspector general for the agency.

I understand Bush's insistence that deciding who to nominate to oversee the Postal Service is an executive prerogative. But it sure sounds bad to be defending his right to appoint self-interested cronies. Further, Congress was given specific authority over post offices in the Constitution, appointed the first Postmaster General (Ben Franklin) itself, and actually ran the Postal Service until 1970. So his authority here is somewhat more shaky. Finally, Congress' "advice and consent" role essentially makes the objection moot, as they can reject any appointee who doesn't meet the qualifications.

This is just one more example of why signing statements are a coward's way out, legislationwise. Rather than work with -- or confront -- Congress to adjust the bill's language -- and thus conduct business in full sunlight -- Bush simply signs it and then announces what he will accept and what he will ignore. It's bad governance, bad law and bad faith.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There were a couple of questions about this in Tony Snow's press briefing today. Snow said:

'This is not a change in the law. This is not new. It is not as was described in one paper a "sweeping new power" by the President. It is, in fact, merely a statement of present law and present authorities granted to the President of the United States."

" enforcement authorities have exactly the same power to open first class mail that the had prior to the enactment of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, at least with respect to exigent circumstances and FISA-authorized searches."

Apparently, you fell for The New York Daily News' misfired "scoop."


1/04/2007 7:10 PM  

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