Saturday, July 05, 2008

FISA sidelight

It's an ugly business, the determination of an apparent majority of Democrats in the Senate to legalize grab bag electronic snooping permanently and to immunize telecommunications companies that did it on GWB's say-so. Even uglier, is Senator Obama's retreat from his strong assertions last fall and winter that he wouldn't be a party to trashing our Constitutional protections against being searched without a court process.

But the FISA fight has thrown up one unexpectedly creditable actor, Federal District Judge Vaughan R. Walker in whose court the lawsuits are being heard that would force the telecoms to reveal what they did. In the course of these lawsuits, Walker has ruled 1) that the companies could not reasonably have believed that what they were doing didn't violate FISA as it then existed and that 2) the Government can't claim on unsupported assertion that allowing the suits to proceed will violate a "state secrets" privilege. Those are actually quite radical repudiations of the Bushie's power grabs. Glenn Greenwald explains the intricacies here.

Walker should be a familiar name to progressive San Franciscans. When Daddy Bush appointed him in 1988, civil rights advocates were up in arms and we did our feeble best to prevent his confirmation. In too recent memory, as a partner in the corporate law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, Walker had carried, and won, the copyright infringement case the United States Olympic Committee brought against the "Gay Olympics." No matter that the USOC had never moved against the Nebraska Rat Olympics or the Police Olympics. Queers were not to sully the good name of the sporting event.

And Walker wasn't just a dispassionate advocate for his client. We were particularly distressed when the USOC sought a damage lien against the house of Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Olympics and a U.S. decathlete in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Waddell died of AIDS in 1987. The "Gay Games" has since served to humanize LGBT people in five more quadrennial versions. It's now a fine international party.

Back then, lots of us loathed Walker.

''I think his lack of compassion and inhumanity and coerciveness certainly disqualify him from consideration for the Federal judiciary,'' said Mary Dunlap, a San Francisco lawyer who opposed Mr. Walker in the Olympics case.

New York Times,
January 14, 1988

Nobody paid much attention to outraged queers and friends in those days.

And Walker has gone on to become an interesting judge with an independent streak. Would that more judicial appointees showed his fiber.


Anonymous said...

And appointed by G.H.W. Bush no less. Walker is an interesting case--getting more independent the longer he's on the bench, though not known for being a passionate advocate of the rights of the citizenry.

Nell said...

Thanks for this, Jan; I hadn't known that history.

On the FISA main stage -- last-ditch efforts to get Senators to do the right thing on the vote this coming Tuesday the 8th --Thomas Nephew has a great round-up of information and links.