Turley: Obama Worst Civil Liberties President Ever

Jonathan Turley writes in the LA Times that Obama may prove to be the worst president ever for civil liberties:

Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

True so far.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama’s personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.

I don’t agree with that last part. He is conflating civil libertarians with Democrats. It’s certainly true that many Democrats have quietly acquiesced to Obama’s anti-constitution agenda but I don’t see civil libertarians doing that. The ACLU certainly hasn’t done that, they’ve continued to blast him on those issues and continued filing lawsuit after lawsuit over the expansion of executive power, the lack of transparency, torture, rendition and the national surveillance state. Likewise for the Center for Constitutional Rights, the EFF and every other serious civil libertarian group I can think of. Let’s not confuse them with the Democratic leadership, which has been both cowardly and hypocritical on all of these issues.

Then he makes this argument:

Ironically, had Obama been defeated in 2008, it is likely that an alliance for civil liberties might have coalesced and effectively fought the government’s burgeoning police powers. A Gallup poll released this week shows 49% of Americans, a record since the poll began asking this question in 2003, believe that “the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals’ rights and freedoms.” Yet the Obama administration long ago made a cynical calculation that it already had such voters in the bag and tacked to the right on this issue to show Obama was not “soft” on terror. He assumed that, yet again, civil libertarians might grumble and gripe but, come election day, they would not dare stay home.

I think he’s absolutely right about Democrats being more likely to join with libertarians in opposing the same actions Obama has taken if another Republican was in the White House, but that doesn’t actually mean that the country would be better off in regard to civil liberties. Had McCain won, he would have been the one to replace Souter and Stevens on the Supreme Court and there is no doubt that his nominees would have been far worse on these issues than Kagan and Sotomayor have been or will be in the future. There would now be a 7-2 conservative majority on the Supreme Court that would be in place for the next 20-30 years, with devastating consequences for the Bill of Rights.

That doesn’t mean Obama hasn’t been a disaster on constitutional issues; he has been, as I’ve been arguing from the very start of his administration. But with both parties cravenly supporting the same unconstitutional polices at this point, the federal courts are our only realistic hope for limiting those abuses. And despite his own failures in this regard, the people he’s put not only on the Supreme Court but on the entire federal bench have been immensely preferable to almost anyone the Republicans would have put in those positions.

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