The [Authorization for Use of Military Force] places the President at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the NSA activities. Under the tripartite framework set forth by Justice Jackson in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635-38 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring), Presidential authority is analyzed to determine whether the President is acting in accordance with congressional authorization (category I), whether he acts in the absence of a grant or denial of authority by Congress (category II), or whether he uses his own authority under the Constitution to take actions incompatible with congressional measures (category III). Because of the broad authorization provided in the AUMF, the President’s action here falls within category I of Justice Jackson’s framework. Accordingly, the President’s power in authorizing the NSA activities is at its height because he acted “pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress,” and his power “includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.” Id. at 635.We've already heard this argument, but the new document makes the structure of the argument very clear: the activities should be seen as not violating FISA (because of the AUMF), but if a conflict with FISA is seen, the President still has the power (because FISA would be unconstitutional as an infringement of his Article II powers). The latter argument is also held up as a reason to interpret FISA not to see a conflict (because statutes should be interpreted to avoid difficult questions of constitutional law). That is, any ambiguities in coordinating FISA and AUMF should be resolved in favor of presidential power.
The NSA activities are consistent with the preexisting statutory framework generally applicable to the interception of communications in the United States—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), as amended, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1862 (2000 & Supp. II 2002), and relevant related provisions in chapter 119 of title 18.1 Although FISA generally requires judicial approval of electronic surveillance, FISA also contemplates that Congress may authorize such surveillance by a statute other than FISA. See 50 U.S.C. § 1809(a) (prohibiting any person from intentionally “engag[ing] . . . in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized 1 Chapter 119 of title 18, which was enacted by Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, as amended, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2521 (2000 & West Supp. 2005), is often referred to as “Title III.” by statute”). The AUMF, as construed by the Supreme Court in Hamdi and as confirmed by the history and tradition of armed conflict, is just such a statute. Accordingly, electronic surveillance conducted by the President pursuant to the AUMF, including the NSA activities, is fully consistent with FISA and falls within category I of Justice Jackson’s framework.
Even if there were ambiguity about whether FISA, read together with the AUMF, permits the President to authorize the NSA activities, the canon of constitutional avoidance requires reading these statutes in harmony to overcome any restrictions in FISA and Title III, at least as they might otherwise apply to the congressionally authorized armed conflict with al Qaeda. Indeed, were FISA and Title III interpreted to impede the President’s ability to use the traditional tool of electronic surveillance to detect and prevent future attacks by a declared enemy that has already struck at the homeland and is engaged in ongoing operations against the United States, the constitutionality of FISA, as applied to that situation, would be called into very serious doubt. In fact, if this difficult constitutional question had to be addressed, FISA would be unconstitutional as applied to this narrow context. Importantly, the FISA Court of Review itself recognized just three years ago that the President retains constitutional authority to conduct foreign surveillance apart from the FISA framework, and the President is certainly entitled, at a minimum, to rely on that judicial interpretation of the Constitution and FISA.
The document also deals with the question whether the Fourth Amendment is violated.
Here is the NYT article about this new document.
Orin Kerr says: "The new document is basically an appellate brief filed in the Court of Public Opinion." Well, Public, what do you think?