WASHINGTON - January 17 - The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) will be providing legal counsel to the Center for Constitutional Rights and its attorneys in a suit to enjoin President Bush from engaging in illegal electronic surveillance without court orders. Michael Avery, President of the NLG, will be handling the case on behalf of the Guild and working with lawyers from the Center itself. Avery is a constitutional law professor at Suffolk Law School in Boston.
NLG President Michael Avery stated, “The president has no power under the Constitution to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant. His claim that his role as commander in chief of the military gives him this power is an attempt to create an imperial presidency, in which the president is not subject to checks and balances by either the judiciary or by Congress. President Bush’s actions are a threat to the continued existence of American constitutional democracy.”
The Lawyers Guild noted that the suit is based on the fact that the Fourth Amendment forbids searches and electronic surveillance without a court order, and that Congress has explicitly provided that the only legal way to conduct electronic surveillance in national security cases is with a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or through ordinary criminal channels with a warrant from a United States District Court. The only exceptions to this requirement do not apply to the surveillance the president has authorized. Congress has made the surveillance that the president is conducting a criminal offense, a felony punishable by a five-year prison term.
The Executive Director of the Guild, Heidi Boghosian, noted, “The Center for Constitutional Rights has played an essential role in providing legal assistance for victims of the president’s abuses of power, such as the prisoners at Guantanamo and others. The Guild is proud to provide our lawyers to the Center to help them halt the illegal electronic surveillance that is making it difficult for them to carry on their important work.”
Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters. The Guild has a long history of representing individuals whose rights the government has violated by abusing its powers in the name of national security. Guild members defended FBI-targeted individuals and helped expose illegal FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration and disruption tactics (COINTELPRO) that the U.S. Senate "Church Commission" hearings detailed in 1975-76 and which led to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and other specific limitations on federal investigative power.