U.S. high court nominee,Alito urged eavesdropping immunity
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito once argued that the country's top law enforcement official should be immune from legal action for authorising domestic wiretapping if it was done in the interest of national security, newly released documents show.
In a 1984 memo written when he was an assistant to the solicitor general, Alito said: "I do not question that the attorney general should have this immunity."
The memo was among scores of other documents released by the National Archives on Friday. It came to light as U.S. President George W. Bush faces criticism for secretly ordering eavesdropping on the international phone conversations and e-mail of Americans suspected of links to terrorists.
A key Republican senator has asked Alito about Bush's domestic spying order and whether war gives the president a blank check when it comes to civil liberties.
In a letter to Alito, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, who will preside at Alito's Senate confirmation hearing next month, also asked what approach he would use to assess Bush's authority.
"Historically, the court has shied away from checking executive power while a military conflict was going on," Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, wrote the conservative judge in preparation for the hearing set to begin January 9.
In the decades-old memo, Alito said that the attorney general should be able to take action to protect the United States from threats like terrorism and espionage without fear of being sued. But in a case dating to the administration of President Richard Nixon, Alito recommended not raising the issue "for tactical reasons."
"Today's documents show more evidence that Judge Alito favours sweeping presidential and executive powers over the people's right to privacy," said Ralph Neas, president of People For the American Way.
With Bush under fire for authorising wiretaps without warrants, "the American people understand they need a justice on the Supreme Court who will protect their rights against abuse by their own government," he said.
After both Republican and Democratic lawmakers raised questions, Specter promised a separate hearing on Bush's recently disclosed order to permit eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, without court approval, on Americans with suspected terrorist ties.