Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Selective Enforcement

From the New York Times editorial page:

It’s hard to say which was more bizarre about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s threat to prosecute The Times for revealing President Bush’s domestic spying program: his claim that a century-old espionage law could be used to muzzle the press or his assertion that the administration cares about enforcing laws the way Congress intended.

Mr. Gonzales said on Sunday that a careful reading of some statutes “would seem to indicate” that it was possible to prosecute journalists for publishing classified material. He called it “a policy judgment by Congress in passing that kind of legislation,” which the executive is obliged to obey.

Mr. Gonzales seemed to be talking about a law that dates to World War I and bans, in some circumstances, the unauthorized possession and publication of information related to national defense. It has long been understood that this overly broad and little used law applies to government officials who swear to protect such secrets, and not to journalists.

But in any case, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Bush have not shown the slightest interest in upholding constitutional principles or following legislative guidelines that they do not find ideologically or politically expedient.


If Mr. Gonzales has developed a respect for legislative intent or a commitment to law enforcement, he could start by using his department’s power to enforce the Voting Rights Act to protect Americans, rather than challenging minority voting rights and endorsing such obviously discriminatory practices as the gerrymandering in Texas or the Georgia voter ID program. He could enforce workplace safety laws, like those so tragically unenforced at the nation’s coal mines, instead of protecting polluters and gun traffickers.

He could uphold the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, instead of coming up with cynical justifications for violating them. He could repudiate the disgraceful fiction known as “unlawful enemy combatant,” which the administration cooked up after 9/11 to deny legal rights to certain prisoners.

And he could suggest that the administration follow Congress’s clear and specific intent for the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: outlawing wiretaps of Americans without warrants.

To paraphrase Orwell, all laws are enforceable, but some laws are more — or less — enforceable than others, especially when it suits your agenda.