Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who is the woman who had the guts to rule against Bush on warrantless NSA spying?

It takes guts for one, lone judge to go up against the legal machinery of the entire White House on a matter of national security during wartime. That's what United States District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor did when she ruled that Bush's secret instructions to the NSA to engage in warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens violates both FISA and the Constitution.

The outcry was immediate. Administration supporters loudly criticized the decision, many of them without completely informing themselves about the decision and the court proceedings that preceded it. Ann Althouse wrote a somewhat disingenuous NYT Op-Ed in which she dismissed Taylor's thinking as "careless." A host of wingnuts called Judge Taylor far worse than careless. Glenn Greenwald has had a series of excellent posts on the decision and rightwing reaction to it.

But what sort of a woman is Justice Taylor, who has consistently been portrayed by Bush backers ever since the decision last week as a burned-out old Carter appointee and political hack? Geoffrey Stone, writing in the University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog wondered the same thing and did some digging. What he found seems admirable and courageous.
Who is Judge Taylor, anyway? Knowing little about her, I decided to check her out. She is an African-American graduate of Yale Law School (JD '57). In 1964, she spent the summer ("Freedom Summer") in Mississippi to help provide legal services for civil rights activists. She arrived in Mississippi on the very day that three young civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner) disappeared in Philadelphia, Mississippi. When she and several other attorneys went to the sheriff's office to inquire about the disappearance, they were surrounded by a mob of hostile whites who hurled racial epithets at Taylor and her companions. Forty-four days later, the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were found at Olen Barrage's Old Jolly Farm, six miles northeast of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
After her experience in Mississippi, Anna Diggs Taylor had a distinguished legal career in Detroit, where she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, special counsel to the city, and a private practitioner. Among her many achievements, she won a landmark anti-discrimination case. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed her a United States District Judge.

Judges are who they are. They strive to follow the law, but personal experience and character matter. I have little doubt that Judge Taylor's willingness to face the merits in ACLU v. NSA was in part the consequence of who she is as a person. Her decision took personal courage and a genuine commitment to the rule of law. The same kind of courage and commitment she manifested forty years ago during Freedom Summer. We need judges cut from such cloth.
Check out Stone's post. He goes on to compare Judge Taylor's ruling favorably to a famous opinion by Judge Learned Hand on a challenge to the Espionage Act of 1917, during the height of World War I, an opinion that "is today regarded as one of the truly great judicial opinions in the history of the United States."

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