Lawyers, Guns, Money and the National Interest

By October 18, 2007Briefly Legal, Communications

The debate over the anti-terrorist electronic surveillance bill appears to have taken a good turn for the efficient and fair administration of justice. There were serious concerns that the legislation — H.R. 3773 — would open the floodgates to lawsuits against communications companies for being responsive to the federal government’s investigations of terrorist activities.

Brendan Miniter, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Political Diary” e-mail yesterday, noted that the lefty group,, had blasted out an e-mail to 3.3 million supporters urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into the battle against the White House, which had threatened to veto the bill. Miniter observes:

Trial lawyers, a big Democratic constituency that stands to benefit handsomely from such lawsuits, have been letting others carry the fight so far. Ms. Pelosi didn’t mince words in a press conference last week in referring to Verizon, AT&T and other target companies: ‘These are not individual citizens without resources, these are major telecom companies with a phalanx of lawyers who understand the Constitution and the law. And if they have exposure, the courtroom is the place to go.’

The White House’s Statement of Administration Principle Tuesday made the counterargument:

It is a matter of basic fairness that providers who are alleged to have provided assistance to the Government in the wake of these terrorist attacks should not face liability claims. It also is critical to our national security that such companies be protected from litigation, since companies that face lawsuits for allegedly assisting the Government may be unwilling to provide assistance if and when it is needed to prevent future terrorist attacks.

So we were pleased to read today’s Washington Post:

Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government’s domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources.

Disclosure of the deal followed a decision by House Democratic leaders to pull a competing version of the measure from the floor because they lacked the votes to prevail over Republican opponents and GOP parliamentary maneuvers.

A case where the nation’s interests in defeating our mortal enemies overcomes the political might of the trial bar. Excellent!

But progress that’s hardly certain. More from the Post:

Democrats warned yesterday that the Senate intelligence panel’s consensus bill must gain the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman and ranking Republican have said, like their House counterparts, that they are wary of granting immunity to telecommunications companies.

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