The plaintiffs of one of the lawsuits against the telecom companies have written an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about why they sued AT&T. Their suit would be killed by legislation that includes retroactive immunity. There’s been a lot of questioning from the right about the motives of the plaintiffs and the lawyers to sue the telecoms and subsequently desire the suits to move forward like all other lawsuits in the history of American jurisprudence. The op-ed answers these questions
The Bush administration and its supporters in Congress complain that these lawsuits are simply about money and enriching trial lawyers — suggesting that the litigation should be stopped because of the potential damages that might be awarded in such lawsuits. This criticism ignores the fact that, according to the rules in the federal court, the only way that we could ensure that a federal judge could continue to explore previous violations if the companies simply changed their participation or the government changed or ended the program was to ask for minimal damages. We are not interested in recovering money for ourselves, nor is our counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. We, however, are committed to assuring that these giant companies are punished for violating the law and thus dissuaded from violating the law in the future.
More important, amnesty not only lets the companies off the hook without answering any questions, it assures that the American people will never learn about the breadth and extent of the lawless program. Some seem to suggest that we should not have our day in court because a select few members of Congress have been able to review documents about the spy program operated by the White House. The judgment of a few Washington insiders is not a substitute for the careful scrutiny of a federal court.
Congress is supposed to act to protect the rights of American citizens, not sacrifice those rights to large corporate entities. The House and Senate should resist the bullying tactics of the Bush White House and ensure that we have our day in court to vindicate our rights and reveal any illegality engaged in by the telecoms. We need to know about the Bush White House’s secret program. [Emphasis added]
There is a wide gap between self-interest and the rule of law. The plaintiffs in this case, at least, are seeking the same treatment under the law as any others. This is not a radical idea, but rather one of the most fundamental principles of American society. Granting retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant would seriously undermine the rule of law. It would show that you are only subject to the law as long as you don’t have powerful allies in Congress.
The plaintiffs are right – Congress must not grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms.