Well, there's a coda to the Gonzales protest, perhaps a very significant one. The organizers of the event are putting together a website where they're hoping to build a grassroots coalition of law students, professors, and citizens to counter the Administration's campaign of empty legal claims.
Discussion of the protest and future plans are taking place via this blog.
We felt that it would be wrong to allow our legal institution to be used as the backdrop for the Administration’s political maneuvering and flouting of the law. Gonzales’ presentation had the appearance of an academic debate – as Gonzales spoke at a podium flanked by a panel of law professors, with the school’s banner behind him – but this was not a forum for dialogue. We did not want media reports of the event to give the false impression that the weight of the Georgetown Law School community was wholeheartedly behind his words; we did not want this event to operate as an endorsement of an offensive political campaign.
The event cannot be viewed out of context. This was part of the Bush Administration’s coordinated public relations campaign to convince Americans that warrantless domestic spying is legal and justified. It has nothing to do with the Administration’s desire for open discussion but has arisen solely out of necessity in the aftermath of the New York Times leak (the Attorney General also made clear in his speech that the full details of the program have not been made public—we still don’t know the extent to which the law is being broken).
The Attorney General left immediately after his speech, allowing no time for questions. Indeed, absent the protest, there would have been no way for the law school community to express its own views. It is regrettable, to say the least, that the Administration and American society in general does not make more space for meaningful dialogue—the enthusiastic internet response to the protest is testament to the desire for such outlets. At the same time, it reminds us how completely closed the court of public opinion generally is.
The student protestors were motivated by their conviction that the legal interpretation offered by the Attorney General— one in which the Constitution does not provide any limiting principle on the war powers of president—is unprecedented, and far too dangerous to our democracy to be taken sitting down. We wonder what sort of reaction would be expected if the Attorney General proposed the resurgence of World War II-style internment camps for US citizens? Certainly nothing in his legal arguments would contradict a precedent so thoroughly condemned and rejected by scholars and citizens alike. How bad would it have to get for us to be justified in turning our backs on those “unpopular views,” and how far are we from that point?
We chose to turn our backs because we feel we are well past the point of pretending there are two sides to the issue. We turned our backs on torture, on the dangerous expansion of the executive, and on the ongoing assault on the First Amendment freedoms our protest relied upon. Turning our backs was a peaceful and civil display of deeply felt political dissent. Should we really have sat by politely and clapped hypocritically at the end? We are far from the point of needing justification for our civil disobedience. As we should all remember, our Constitution and democratic system of government gave us that justification long ago. Our actions were a humble display of the dignitary value of exercising the rights we are privileged to carry as citizens.