Why We Stood

On Tuesday, we stood and turned our backs on attorney general Alberto Gonzales. The country's highest-ranking lawyer came to our school -- Georgetown University Law Center -- to convince the American public that the government's wiretapping program is legal. As America's future lawyers, we stood to oppose the Bush administration's bulldozing of our constitutional protections in the name of the war on terror. We stood inspired by the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

In his prepared speech, the attorney general proposed an unprecedented view of presidential power predicated more on the strength of his assertions than on valid legal arguments. Gonzales, who has called the protections of the Geneva Convention "quaint" and supported a radical legal redefinition of torture, was telling us why the president could break the nation's domestic spying laws. We refused to let our institution be used as a legitimacy background to an illegal program.

The attorney general advanced legal argument as an afterthought. Gonzales played on our fears of terrorism, asserting that the Bush administration has our protection at heart. But while Gonzales provided carefully tailored sound bites, his legal arguments were unconvincing and wrong.

Gonzales ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law specifically enacted as a check on government domestic spying abuses. He asserted that the president could -- at his discretion -- bypass a court explicitly established to review the legitimacy of wiretapping for national security purposes. He endowed the act authorizing the use of military force with unparalleled might, using it to justify policies its congressional enactors neither intended nor even considered.

Our protest was not about partisan politics; leading politicians and constitutional scholars of all political stripes have recognized the administration's arguments for domestic spying as flimsy at best. Our silent protest was about choosing the Constitution and our country's ideals over wrongheaded political rhetoric and surrender to a culture of fear. As graduate law students, we know for certain that adherence to the law must not be a passing consideration. Our government cannot dismantle the law for the sake of unfettered discretion in advancing national security policies or cling in vain to weak legal justifications. As the next generation of America's lawyers, our job is to stand up for the rule of law, not the rule of men.

Gonzales claimed he was contributing to a vibrant discussion, but there was no discourse. He left the room immediately following his speech and did not take part in the panel discussion. Like the president, he has consistently refused to take questions, snubbed the myriad voices of dissent and manipulated the horrors of 9/11 for the sacrifice of our liberties.

This event was one among a series of other recent national events with the same agenda -- top administration officials speaking against an official backdrop chosen to legitimize a program that has brought them criticism. We could not allow our law school to be used as the legitimate backdrop for the administration's staged photo-op.

Despite two rows of Justice Department staff and three rows of media in a small room, we made sure that the attorney general did not preach to a docile audience. We have been taught to question, to challenge and to advocate. Most of all, we have been taught to understand the law and to apply it rigorously.

Alberto Gonzales chose to use our school as the platform to justify breaking the laws we are taught to honor. We chose instead to stand for the law.

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