Re: White House Denies Switch In Mail Policy – Letter to the Editor NY Times (unpublished)

Re: White House Denies Switch In Mail Policy (1/05/07)

One illegality leads to another. The Congressional failure to stop domestic warrantless electronic surveillance by the President has apparently emboldened him to publicly assert a claim to authority he may have already employed: opening our mail without a warrant. Now it’s up to the Democrats.

They must end these gross invasions of our Constitutional and privacy rights. Legislation, cutting off funding and impeachment are all appropriate remedies.

Michael Ratner

President Center for Constitutional Rights


Text of Article

White House Denies Switch in Mail Policy


WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 — The White House said Thursday that President Bush was not claiming any new executive authority last month when he issued a statement suggesting that postal inspectors could open mail without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said the statement Mr. Bush issued in signing postal legislation was merely a restatement of existing law allowing mail to be opened without a warrant in “exigent circumstances” to protect public safety.

“All this is saying is that there are provisions at law for, in exigent circumstances, for such inspections,” Mr. Snow said. “It has been thus. This is not a change in the law. This is not new.”

The questions arose after The New York Daily News published an article on Thursday drawing attention to the Dec. 20 signing statement and legal questions surrounding it. The front page featured a photo of Mr. Bush alongside the banner headline: “Prez Goes Postal.”

Federal law, in keeping with the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches, generally prohibits the government from opening first-class mail without a warrant. But a 1996 postal provision allows postal inspectors to open mail without a warrant in narrow circumstances if there is credible evidence that a package contains a bomb or other dangerous material.

Mr. Bush has drawn intense scrutiny and criticism from Democrats and groups like the American Bar Association for issuing signing statements reserving the right to disregard more than 800 selected provisions of measures that he signed into law, often on the grounds that they represented an unconstitutional infringement on executive authority.

In signing the postal legislation last month, Mr. Bush said that its restrictions on opening mail should be construed “in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”

Mr. Snow said Mr. Bush had not claimed any “sweeping new powers” through the statement, as The Daily News article asserted, and the Postal Service issued a statement on Thursday echoing that assessment.

“As has been the longstanding practice, first-class mail is protected from unreasonable search and seizure when in postal custody,” said Thomas Day, a senior vice president for the Postal Service. “Nothing in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act changes this protection. The president is not exerting any new authority.”

Critics were not so certain.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, called Mr. Bush’s signing statement a “last-minute, irregular and unauthorized reinterpretation of a duly passed law” protecting the privacy of mail users. The American Civil Liberties Union said it would press to find out how often mailings had been opened without warrants.