WASHINGTON -- Federal District Judge James Robertson, who resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court in protest over secret wiretaps ordered by President Bush, is regarded in Washington legal circles as one of President Bill Clinton's most liberal and partisan judicial appointments.
Robertson, 67, has ruled consistently against the Bush administration's handling of enemy combatants. On July 15 this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed his 2004 ruling that a military commission could not try alleged terrorist Salim Ahmed Hamdan.
In private Washington practice before going on the court, Robertson was an aggressive civil rights advocate. He spent 1969-1972 with the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, serving for a time as the organization's chief counsel in Jackson, Miss. In 1994, Clinton named him to the federal bench, where he remains despite his resignation from the FISA court.
During hectic Senate bargaining on the Patriot Act Wednesday night, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales almost ruined the deal by telephoning Democratic senators with the misinformation that Republican Sens. Larry Craig and John Sununu had agreed to the administration's version of extending the act.
In fact, the Republican dissenters had agreed only to a temporary extension of the act that provided the government with additional legal tools against terrorism. The White House assured the senators that Gonzales was not speaking for the president. A six-month extension then was passed by the Senate to permit negotiation of the act's provisions that critics say violate civil liberties of ordinary Americans.
A footnote: On Wednesday night, presidential aides informed senators that Bush had never threatened to veto a short-term extension of the Patriot Act as hinted in White House briefings and as had been widely published. That opened the door to resolving the Senate deadlock.
Republican senators complain that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, liberal lion of the Senate, has taken over effective control of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee because the Republican chairman, Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, defers to him so much.
In an era of intense partisanship, Kennedy and Enzi collaborate on spending and regulatory measures before their committee. In addition, Enzi has joined Kennedy in signing letters calling for investigation of Bush administration practices. "He is my favorite chairman," Kennedy said of Enzi Jan. 20, the first of many such compliments.