Senator Rand Paul, as you all have seen or heard by now, is, as I write this, conducting an honest-to-goodness filibuster in the U.S. Senate over the nomination of John Brennan for Director of the CIA. Paul started his filibuster at 10:47am Central Standard Time this Wednesday.
Despite the fact that I dislike, rather strongly, Rand Paul, and despite the fact that he has said some dumb things during the time he has been speaking, I have exactly no problem with what he is doing, for a couple of reasons:
1) The filibuster should be conducted in the way Rand Paul is conducting it; that is, he is actually doing the (relatively) hard work of standing up and speaking, and speaking, and speaking, as opposed to just technically initiating a filibuster without the accompanying necessity of standing on the floor and paying the price—in terms of the sheer physical strain, as well as the public exposure—of his convictions.
2) His point for conducting the filibuster, as far as I can tell in the time I have listened to him, is a valid one. I admire anyone who is willing to stand up for hours upon hours in defense of a recognizably legitimate principle.
I will summarize his objection, the ostensible reason for his filibuster, by quoting something he said at 6:37 pm Central time—almost exactly eight hours after he began:
If you have a war that has no end, if you have a war that has no geographic limit, and then if you have strikes that have no constitutional bounds, basically what you have is an unlimited, imperial presidency.
I cannot and will not argue with that.
Now, I confess that a year ago to the day, I wrote about drone strikes on Americans in foreign lands (Can The Government Kill Citizens Overseas?), and I haven’t seen or read anything that would make me change my mind (reluctantly, I said “yes”).
But what Rand Paul is arguing, again, as far as I can tell between the bouts of nuttiness, is something different. He seems to be mostly concerned with a president’s authority to use drones, or presumably any other method, to kill Americans here, on American soil. And I can say that there is no way, under any set of normal circumstances, I would support using drones to kill Americans on American soil, without an independent due process of law. No way.
And I would expect Barack Obama, as our leader and as a Democrat, to feel the same way. I think he does, even if, just to protect his executive turf, he is somewhat reluctant to say so. And I think his Attorney General, Eric Holder, feels the same way. I believe Holder’s letter to Rand Paul, which you can see here, comes close to satisfying my concerns, since he writes:
It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
I say it comes close to satisfying my concerns because I think it could have been worded more clearly and more directly, sort of like this:
Unless there is a rare circumstance of an imminent catastrophic attack, such as happened on December 7, 1941, or on September 11, 2001, there is no way the Constitution permits the authorization or use of lethal military force on terrorist suspects on United States soil. None.
Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
The problem with what Rand Paul is doing is not his message. It is the fact that such an otherwise silly man is delivering a message that merits our attention. And the fact that Senator Ted Cruz, a most disgusting and calculating opportunist from Texas—who does a mean impression of Joe McCarthy—is supporting Paul makes it all the worse.
But at the end of it all, what remains is a legitimate demand, by at least one member of the legislative branch, that its executive branch counterpart recognize the supremacy of the Constitution in its treatment of American citizens here at home.
And, as much as it pains me to say so, Rand Paul is doing a good thing in this case.