The author reflects on a symposium panel discussion on “Swimming in the Ocean of Big Data: National Security in the Age of Unlimited Information” that occurred before the Snowden disclosures. He analyzes the panel discussion in context of the time at which it occurred and compares it to what has become known since June 2013. The article then focuses on the path to reform, specifically by focusing attention on the strengths and weaknesses of data collection by both the public and private sectors.
No one seriously claims that the Supreme Court’s 1872 decision in United States v. Klein is a model of clarity. Justice Field’s opinion for the Court is as enigmatic as it is intriguing, providing the only pre-2008 example of a Supreme Court decision invalidating an Act of Congress for unconstitutionally depriving the federal courts of jurisdiction. The million dollar question, of course, is why the Court so ruled, and no amount of scholarship, no matter the quality of the analysis or the intellectual abilities of the author, has managed to settle the issue to any meaningful degree. Indeed, even when the Klein “rule” has been deployed by contemporary jurists as a basis for invalidating federal legislation, such efforts have, charitably, failed to persuade. Thus, although virtually all observers agree that Klein bars Congress from commanding the courts to rule for a particular party in a pending case, the question remains whether it stands for any broader constraint on legislative power.
Professor Howard Wasserman’s response to this state of doctrinal, academic, and juridical indeterminacy is to suggest that it conclusively establishes Klein’s insignificance, and that Klein’s importance to the modern Federal Courts canon is really a “myth,” born out of a “false belief that Klein establishes vigorous judicially enforceable constitutional limitations on Congress.” To be sure, Wasserman does not believe Klein to be devoid of force; rather, he concludes that “[m]ost blatantly Klein violative laws are never enacted; Klein-vulnerable laws that have been enacted raise no meaningful or serious Klein problems and should survive any separation of powers challenge.”
It is impossible to have a meaningful debate over whether a civilian court or a military commission is a more appropriate forum for trying terrorism suspects so long as serious questions remain over whether the commissions may constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over particular offenses and/or offenders. And yet, although a number of defendants have attempted to challenge the jurisdiction of the military commissions – especially under the MCA – none of their cases have managed to produce a decision on the merits from any court higher than the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). Instead, the federal courts have generally relied on ‘abstention’ doctrine, holding that challenges to the commissions, including to their jurisdiction, can – and should – be resolved on post-conviction appeal. … [T]he time has long since passed for a careful explication of the issues, the relevant precedents, and the most likely answers.
The “war” on terrorism may never end. At a minimum, it shows no signs of ending any time soon. Although this reality is an unpleasant one for many civil libertarians today, it is also difficult to refute. Just what will mark the conclusion of hostilities? It seems unlikely that there is an entity whose “surrender” would mark an obvious “end” of combat. Even if there were such an entity, there do not appear to be clearly identifiable objectives that allow for the successful completion of the conflict. There is no physical territory to conquer, no clear leadership structure to topple, no Reichstag over which to fly a foreign flag.