Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Obama I Know by Cass R Sunstein

Not so long ago, the phone rang in my office. It was Barack Obama. For more than a decade, Obama was my colleague at the University of Chicago Law School.

He is also a friend. But since his election to the Senate, he does not exactly call every day.

On this occasion, he had an important topic to discuss: the controversy over President George W. Bush's warrantless surveillance of international telephone calls between Americans and suspected terrorists. I had written a short essay suggesting that the surveillance might be lawful. Before taking a public position, Obama wanted to talk the problem through.

In the space of about 20 minutes, he and I investigated the legal details. He asked me to explore all sorts of issues: the President's power as commander-in-chief, the Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Authorization for Use of Military Force and more.

Obama wanted to consider the best possible defence of what Bush had done. To every argument I made, he listened and offered a counter-argument. After the issue had been exhausted, Obama said that he thought the programme was illegal, but now had a better understanding of both sides. He thanked me for my time.


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