Chimpy’s super-duper mighty-frighty terra powers take another hit in court.
A Los Angeles federal judge has ruled that key portions of a presidential order blocking financial assistance to terrorist groups are unconstitutional, further complicating the Bush administration’s attempts to defend its aggressive anti-terrorism tactics in federal courts.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, in a ruling released late Monday, found that two provisions of an executive order signed Sept. 23, 2001, are impermissibly vague because they allow the president to unilaterally designate organizations as terrorist groups and broadly prohibit association with such groups.
David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who is helping to represent the plaintiffs in the case, said the executive order and a related federal statute improperly allow President Bush to create “blacklists” and engage in “guilt by association.”
“The court’s decision confirms that even in fighting terror, unchecked executive authority and trampling on fundamental freedoms is not a permissible option,” Cole said in a statement.
The ruling is the latest setback for the administration’s terrorism and detention policies, in lower courts and at the Supreme Court. In August, a federal judge in Detroit ruled that a National Security Agency warrantless wiretap program is unconstitutional. The government has appealed that ruling.
The latest case focuses on Executive Order 13224, which is aimed at cutting off financing to alleged terrorist groups and is based on the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Twenty-seven groups and individuals were initially named as “specially designated global terrorists” under the order — including the PKK and the Tamil Tigers — and hundreds more since have been added to the list.
In her ruling, Collins said the order is unconstitutional because there is “no apparent limit” on presidential authority to designate groups or individuals as terrorists. In addition, the judge ruled, language banning those “otherwise associated” with such groups is “unconstitutionally vague on its face.” Collins rejected a number of other claims by the plaintiffs, however, including that the order’s definition of a terrorist group is too vague.
Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official in the Reagan years who has criticized the Bush administration’s broad assertions of executive power, said that appealing Collins’s ruling may carry more risks for the government than simply changing the executive order’s language.
“If they take this up on appeal, they risk another repudiation of this omnipotent-presidency theory that they have,” Fein said.