Monday, May 18, 2015

Morgan Griffith on Phone Records and Other Things

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):

"National Day of Prayer

Thursday, May 7 was the 64th annual National Day of Prayer.  I attended a prayer service that day and, as I do often, thanked God for our blessings and prayed for the future of our great nation.  May God bless these United States, and may He bless each and every one of you.

Update – NSA Phone Collection Program Ruled Illegal

According to the POLITICO inside-the-beltway news journal, also on Thursday, May 7, “…a three-judge panel from the New York-based 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that a law Congress passed allowing collection of information relevant to terrorism investigations does not authorize the so-called ‘bulk collection’ of phone records on the scale of the NSA program.  The judges did not address whether the program violated the Constitution.”

This is the first appeals court to have ruled on the legality of this National Security Agency (NSA) metadata program, which was repeatedly approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court).

I would have liked for the court to address whether this program violates the Constitution.  However, let us recall the experiences of Great Britain’s John Wilkes and Massachusetts’ James Otis, Jr.

George III, then King of England, was infuriated by anti-government publications coming out of east London and issued a “general warrant” allowing government officials to search house-to-house and seize papers, property, persons, etc. to determine the author or publisher of this material.  As a result, more than 50 people were arrested and much property was seized.  This ultimately led to a constitutional crisis and made famous the publisher of those anti-government publications, a man named John Wilkes (Wilkes became so famous in America that the mother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin named her son for John Wilkes roughly 40 years after Wilkes' death).  The English courts would later use cases arising out of the “Wilkesite rebellion” to put restraints on general warrants and establish the principles of the freedom of the press.

Similarly, in American history, the Excise Act of 1754 gave tax collectors a writ of assistance allowing them to search building-to-building (including homes, shops, warehouses, anywhere the searcher desired to look) and seize prohibited goods.  In 1761, James Otis, Jr., an attorney, led the legal fight against general warrants and writs of assistance in court.  I would agree with Otis, who said, “I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand and villainy on the other as this Writ of Assistance is.”  After these stirring arguments and others, the court ruled against Otis.  However, a young John Adams was in the courtroom as Otis spoke.  He would later say the ruling in the case on writs of assistance was “the spark in which originated the American revolution.”

It is clear our Founding Fathers were not in favor of general warrants.  This, to me, is evident in our Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search or seizure of persons, houses, papers, and effects.  I would submit that our Founding Fathers would not be in favor of bulk metadata collection either.

To borrow from an editorial I recall having read in the Roanoke Times, the phrase “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” may be applied to skunks as well.  A skunk by any other name still smells the same.

Update – Immigration and the Rule of Law

I joined a number of my colleagues in the House and the Senate in signing an amicus brief challenging the President’s actions on immigration.  This brief will be filed with the Fifth Circuit as it considers the federal government’s appeal of the preliminary injunction currently blocking implementation of the Obama Administration’s immigration actions.  Though I believe the President’s immigration actions are unconstitutional, this important debate is not about whether you like these policies.  It is about whether you like the rule of law.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office via email, please visit my website at  Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives."