Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dumbest. Legal Arguments. Ever.

Steven Benen, The Carpetbagger Report: It’s hardly a secret that the Bush administration has treated the rule of law as some kind of punch line for the better part seven years now, but Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has done the political world a tremendous service by documenting the “Administration’s Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.”

Now, if you’re like me, you may generally avoid these end-of-the-year Top 10 lists. But this one’s a must-read. Most reasonable people who take the law seriously would be humiliated by any of one of these arguments — but the president’s lawyers not only made all of these absurd arguments, they did so in just the last 12 months.

All 10 are worth considering in detail, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope: Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we’d been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we’d been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.
  • Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive: Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the 30-month prison sentence was “excessive.” In fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, Libby’s sentence was perfectly appropriate and consistent with positions advocated by Bush’s own Justice Department earlier this year.
  • The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch: We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders.

Remember, these weren’t just silly talking points repeated on Fox News; these were official legal arguments presented in formal settings, all of which were either false, ridiculous, or both.

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