Rand Paul Got the Better of Chris Christie on the 4th Amendment
Chris Christie tried to attack Rand Paul on the NSA and national security, but Rand Paul won the day by defending the Fourth Amendment & the Bill of Rights.
Written by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic:
One of the biggest clashes in the Republican debate Thursday night came after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked about his past attacks on Senator Rand Paul. The two men disagree about an NSA program that spied on tens of millions of innocent Americans by logging all phone calls they dialed and received. Paul, a leading critic of the phone dragnet, has argued that it flagrantly violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Christie has said that if America is hit by another terrorist attack, Paul should be called before Congress to answer for his efforts to constrain the NSA’s domestic spying.
“Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?” a moderator asked Thursday. The ensuing exchange highlighted stark differences in how the rival candidates would govern and their respective understandings of the Constitution.
Christie stood by his attack.
“Yes, I do,” he said. …
Paul responded to Thursday’s attack by expressing his preference for targeted surveillance rather than an expansive dragnet that sweeps up everyone’s metadata. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,” he said. “The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights. I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.”
Christie was ready with a retort.
“You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know?” Like Keith Alexander, Christie seemed to be arguing that the government needs to intrude on everyone’s private communications to identify terrorists. It’s the logic of general warrants. How can the police know who is keeping an illegal gun in their home without searching the contents of everyone’s home? Republicans uncomfortable with that logic should avoid voting for phone dragnet supporters.
“Get a warrant!” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign the warrant!” …
In fact, “get a judge to sign a warrant” is a rather succinct description of how “the system” is “supposed to work,” if we define “the system” as the Constitution rather than national-security officials following their gut instincts. It’s hardly “blowing hot air” for a senator to call on the executive branch to follow the law.
“Here’s the problem, governor,” Paul said. “You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants, indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end. I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”
Rather than articulate why he believes individualized warrants are neither lawfully required nor prudent, Christie chose to address the “hugging Obama” part of the argument. …
I cannot comment on the style preferences of a GOP voter base that presently prefers Donald Trump to all other candidates. But on substance, Paul easily bested Christie in this exchange. …
Christie seems oblivious to the basic logic of the Bill of Rights. The constraints it places on government are not suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack––they are, in fact, most important precisely when a polity is panicked and officials are unusually able to seize excessive power without criticism. His praise for leaders unapologetically jettisoning such constraints in the name of protecting us is more dangerous than any terrorist plot in U.S. history.