Capital Briefs February 2

Warrantless Wiretapping Upheld: Telecommunications companies must work with the federal government to tap international telephone calls and intercept e-mail of suspected terrorists and saboteurs in the United States. That was a ruling of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review that was handed down in August of ’08 and released last week by the “secret court.” Legal experts on both sides of the privacy issue noted that this ruling was the first time an appeals court has ever provided an exception to the 4th Amendment requirement for search warrants. Bruce Selya, chief judge of the three-judge panel that hears appeals from the full Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, wrote that in cases where the government has set forth safeguards to protect Americans from harm, “its efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts.” To no one’s surprise, the ruling upset numerous civil libertarians. The New York Times said that the finding “bolstered the Bush Administration’s broad arguments on wiretapping without warrants, both critics and supporters said.”  

Seven States Battle Pro-Life Rule: A month after the Bush Administration issued a new rule expanding protection for doctors and health care professionals who refuse to participate in abortion on medical grounds, seven states last week filed a suit in federal court trying to block the Department of Health and Human Services rule. Charging the rule would “unconstitutionally and unconscionably interfere with women’s health care rights,” Connecticut’s Democratic Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal filed the suit on behalf of his state and California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island. When the rule was issued, then HHS-Secretary Mike Leavitt explained that its purpose was to ensure that “doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience.”  

Getting Back At Gillibrand: That’s what many irate New York Democrats seem poised to do. In appointing two-term Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Clinton in the Senate, New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson appears to have infuriated supporters of Caroline Kennedy and State Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo (both of whom wanted the seat) as well as the avid liberals in his own party who are scandalized by the new senator’s stands on guns and illegal immigration. Gillibrand opposes any amnesty or driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, has backed legislation to empower local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws, and supports making English the official U.S. language. If Paterson “wanted to deliver a slap to immigrant New Yorkers, he effectively did so with his appointment yesterday of Rep. Gillibrand,” editorialized El Diario La Prensa, the Spanish language daily. Noting Gillibrand’s high score with the National Rifle Association, Rep. (and ardent gun control advocate) Carolyn McCarthy (D.-N.Y.) told reporters she was considering a primary challenge to the new senator next year. Gillibrand also voted against the Wall Street bailout package in the House last year.  

What’s Next In New York: According to a just-completed Siena Poll, 51% of New York voters are pleased with Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment to the Senate and her fellow upstaters are especially delighted (63% to 19%) with her pick. However, among Democrats, only 21% favor Gillibrand and 29% want “someone else” as the Senate nominee next year. The same poll showed that in a race against Republican Rep. Peter King, Gillibrand wins by a comfortable 46% to 23% of the vote statewide. But facing Rudy Giuliani, Gillibrand wins by only a narrow 44% to 42%. Among Empire State GOPers, 69% favor the former New York City mayor and presidential hopeful as their Senate nominee and 19% want King.  

Stimulus Support Slips: As the House approved the $819 billion “stimulus” package last week by a vote of 244 to 188 (eleven Democrats joined with all 177 Republicans to vote no), support for the massive economic plan was falling nationwide. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted days before the vote, 42% of American voters favor the stimulus package and 39% oppose it. This represented a sharp change from the week before, when Rasmussen showed that 45% favored the proposal and 34% opposed it. According to Rasmussen, the major cause for the change was in the attitude of independent voters. Where the earlier survey showed that independents favored a stimulus package by 37% to 36% of the vote, the more recent results showed a strong 50% were against it and only 27% still supported it.