In my recent post about the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (Gonzales v. Oregon), I wrote that the decision was a victory for the principle of limited government. Broadly speaking, Justice Kennedy held that the law gave the Attorney General only what authority Congress had intended to grant him, while Justice Scalia took the devil's view that the executive could claim any authority he could read into the text of the legislation, regardless of Congressional intent.
The Justice Department's defense of the President Bush's warrantless wiretaps of American citizens in the U.S. mirrors that same corrosive logic. According to the NY Times,
The research service report found there was no indication that Congress intended to authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave President Bush the authority to fight Al Qaeda and invade Afghanistan. But the Justice Department did not back away from its position in Thursday's report, saying the type of "signals intelligence" used in the NSA operation clearly falls under the Congressional use-of-force authorization.
The real contest, however, is not a semantic tussle over whether the text or intent of legislation should be controlling. Rather, it is a fight to defend the bedrock principle of the American social contract: that the Constitution is a limited grant of power from the People to their government, not a limited grant of rights to the people from their Government. When so-called "strict constructionists" take the devil's view of our social contract, they leave us terribly vulnerable to abuses like those Nixon and Bush have perpetrated in the name of "national security."