I sometimes think I fill the role of the Grinch that Stole Christmas when it comes to exciting federal district court decisions. I’ve just been burned too many times by wonderfully reasoned trial court decisions in favor of the good guys on politically relevant issues, only to see them go the way of the dodo on appeal. Most federal circuit courts (the appellate courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court) are extremely conservative now. And the Supreme Court — well, do I even have to go there?
So today’s decision by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor declaring the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance program unconstitutional, while immensely encouraging, leaves me less than overjoyed. It faces what’s likely to be a rocky road on appeal.
People shouldn’t read too much into the Supreme Court’s recent 5-to-3 ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld striking down Bush’s military tribunals. There’s no doubt that the majority in Hamdan felt Bush had grown too big for his britches, but that’s far from a guarantee they’ll buck him on this one. The Bush Administration has generally fared well in litigation involving claimed national security interests.
I also think the politics of this decision will be decidedly mixed. Expect to see Bush & Co. hit the talk show circuit arguing that this is why we need to rein in the “activist liberal judiciary” and suggesting that national security will be severely imperiled if the decision is upheld.
But on second thought, screw all that. For now at least, the Bill of Rights won a big one today and the imperial presidency took a well deserved hit. So go ahead Bill of Rights — take a bow.