[JURIST] The Bush administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill appear likely to clash over legislation authorizing domestic surveillance [JURIST news archive] of suspected terrorists when the lame-duck Congress returns to Washington next week. During a Rose Garden appearance following a Cabinet meeting Thursday, President Bush urged lawmakers [transcript] to pass the Terrorist Surveillance Act, which he called an "important priority in the war on terror." The House version of the bill, which was passed in September [JURIST report], would allow warrantless surveillance for fixed periods following an "armed attack" or a "terrorist attack," or if the president perceives an "imminent threat of attack," with indefinite extensions pending congressional and court oversight.
Prospects for passage of a similar bill [summary] in the Senate are uncertain at best. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the new Congress was quoted in Friday's New York Times as saying that the Bush administration "first hid its domestic spying program from Congress and Americans for years, and when it was discovered, has ducked and weaved on its legal justifications." Although he called monitoring suspected terrorists "essential," Leahy said such surveillance "needs to be done lawfully and with adequate checks and balances to prevent abuses." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [JURIST news archive], the current Judiciary chairman, told the Times he was "not sure exactly how all that is going to work out" because of the "seismic change" in the Senate following Tuesday's elections.
Also on Thursday, Justice Department lawyers argued in US District Court in San Francisco that a lawsuit involving the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program should not proceed until an appeals court considers whether the suit should have been dismissed [JURIST report] to protect state secrets. The same judge denied the DOJ's motion to dismiss the lawsuit [JURIST report] in July, finding that dismissal would offer "no apparent enhancement of security. The New York Times has more.