In one week, the Supreme Court told the police that if they want to examine the contents of our cellphones, whether at traffic stops or serious crime scenes, they need to get a warrant. The court told small-business owners that they needn't pay for government-mandated insurance policies that provide for abortions for their employees, because the government is without authority to command them to do so. It told the president that he cannot wait until Saturday morning, when the Senate is not in session, to appoint high-level officials whose jobs require Senate confirmation, and then claim that they do not require Senate confirmation because the Senate was in recess. And it told selfless parents who stay home to care for their disabled children that the government may not force them to join health-care labor unions and pay union dues against their will.
Buried in these opinions was a legal memorandum sent to the president on July 16, 2010, nearly four years ago, and released last week, after two years of litigation aimed at obtaining it.
The Obama administration had successfully resisted the efforts of The New York Times and others to induce a judge to order the release of the memo by claiming that it contained state secrets. The judge who reviewed the memo concluded that it was merely a legal opinion, and yet she referred to herself as being in "Alice in Wonderland": The laws are public, and the judicial opinions interpreting them are public, so how could a legal opinion be secret? Notwithstanding her dilemma, she accepted the government's absurd claims, and the Times appealed.
Then the government shot itself in the foot when it surreptitiously released a portion of its secret memo to NBC News. This infuriated the panel of federal appellate judges hearing the Times' appeal, and they ordered the entire memo released. Either it is secret or it is not, the court thundered -- and the government, which is bound by the transparency commanded by the First Amendment, cannot pick and choose which parts of its work to reveal to its favorite reporters and which to conceal from the rest of us.
Last week, the administration released the memo. It consists of 40 highly blacked-out pages, the conclusion of which is that the president can order the CIA to kill Americans who are present in foreign countries and who, in the opinion of high-level government officials, pose a threat to Americans and may be difficult to arrest.