President Barack Obama took his Oath of Office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” 1,001 days ago. Along with that oath of office came a very real legal responsibility. Under a law passed well before President Obama took office, he is required to appoint five members of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. That board (the PCLOB for short) is given full subpoena powers to interview members of the U.S. Government and to collect complete information on the search and surveillance activities of the U.S. Government. The PCLOB is tasked with the duty of issuing reports to the Congress and to the public twice yearly that reveal violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. Finally, the PCLOB is tasked with taking action across government agencies to prevent civil liberties violations in the future.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is potentially a very powerful guardian of Americans’ civil liberties in an age of ubiquitous surveillance and warrantless searches. But that is only a potential. In actuality, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board does not exist.
Despite 1,001 opportunities on 1,001 days in office, President Barack Obama failed to nominate anybody to sit on the PCLOB before last Christmas, when he named two nominees, the twice-authoritarian Elisebeth Collins Cook and the impressive James X. Dempsey. But the number two is significant, since according to Section 801 of the relevant law, in order to meet and accomplish anything the PCLOB must have a three-member quorum. By nominating only two people for the board, Barack Obama has .
President Obama is not the only politician to fail in his legal duty. The Senate Judiciary Committee is required to consider and vote on these two nominees to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not considered their nominations. It has not scheduled so much as a single hearing to consider them in the more than ten months since they’ve been nominated. Susie Morgan, who was nominated for a Louisiana judgeship six months after Dempsey and and Collins got their nomination, is getting her hearing tomorrow. Even these two insufficient nominations have been stalled by defenders of the status quo.
Occasionally someone in the press remembers to ask the Obama administration about their failure to obey the law. Take this question offered up by Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune on August 31 2011:
Christi Parsons: The 9/11 recommendations included a civil liberties oversight board, which I understand the President has not appointed three of the five members to, nor a chairman or a chairperson. Do you know why?
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: I honestly will have to take that question. I think as I said to Jim, I just haven’t spent a lot of time yet on that. I was focused on this speech the President is giving next week.
Obama’s Press Secretary took the question for review. He hasn’t delivered any response. Look for yourself in this list of White House materials related to the board. There’s no news on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
There is, however, a special White House web page dedicated to the past 2010 Easter Egg Roll. You can count on the administration to keep its eye on what really matters. Privacy, civil liberties and constitutional rights? Not so much. Photo opportunities with cute kids rolling eggs across the lawn? Oh, yeah, you betcha.
Tomorrow is Day 1,002. Will our President forget about constitutional rights again?