Meet Reggie Walton, the complicated guy in charge of FISA, the secret court. Well, FISA isn't exactly a secret, but their actions are, for the most part, kept separate from public scurrility. This court is the one who says whether or not the burden of proof has been met by the government to spy on you. We need someone to check on the Big Brother and these are the folks who are entrusted to do so. And Reggie's their boss.
According to Jacob Fischler:
Reggie Walton is the Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose 11 members are appointed directly by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. With all of the Edward Snowden talk about spying and the spotlight on the collection of telephone numbers and emails tagged by the National Security Agency this Court, ithas created huge interest because they are the secret body giving the National Security Agency it's power.
So who's this guy running things -- the John Roberts under the "invisible robes?" Not a lot is know about him but some information has been gathered. He is colorful, if nothing else. And if his past actions are any indication of his mind set, he's perhaps more of worthy of the title of maverick than good ol' John McCain.
Here's some high and low lights.
- One former clerk described as “fair but harsh” in his sentences.
- he has a liberal streak on social policy from incarceration to drug crime
- has been dismissive of questions about the limits of executive power.
- a man who views the law and government as having a sweeping role in creating “social change.”
- a Bush appointee and a registered Republican.
- since his appointment to the court in 2007, the FISA Court has dramatically expanded the ability of the federal government to use controversial techniques to gather intelligence on Americans both at home and abroad .
- has also taken an unsympathetic view towards complaints about the expansion of executive branch authorities during the Obama administration.
- Walton is renowned for his tough criminal rulings. He's thought of as a fair, but harsh judge especially on the criminal cases whose punishments were normally at or near the maximum recommended under sentencing guidelines.
Well, that sounds relatively benign, perhaps a bit conservative for my tastes, but it's not my tastes this court was set up to please. It's the American public and our bill of rights, specifically our first and fourth amendments.
What you might find interesting though is he's a criminal. As a poor, young Pennsylvanian, a young Walton found himself on the wrong side of the judge’s bench on more than one occasion. According to Walton, while “admittedly, on a couple of occasions, I wasn’t falsely accused” of a crime, in a number of instances he was. His phraseology, "I wasn't falsely accused" indicates he was self-professed guilty, and I like that he's honest. We all made mistakes and he's human. That's a good quality in a jurist. Perhaps that's why he's demonstrated a willingness to push back against what he believes to be bad policy or illegal efforts by law enforcement
As a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, Walton pushed unsuccessfully for less of a focus on incarceration for drug offenders. In the 1990s, he did lock horns with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, which he viewed as bending the rules in order to win cases. While yes, we have an obligation to vigorously prosecute people, we don’t do it at all costs," he was quoted as saying.
Hopefully that's in insight to Judge Walton's ruling style. He doesn't seem the type who would rubber stamp the DOJ’s requests.
His clerks have warned, though, as for the question of transparency and greater public scrutiny of the court’s activities, don’t look for Walton to become a champion of openness. Walton said that there are certain circumstances under which judges on his court can release their opinions and committed to ensuring they know of those opportunities. But Walton is clearly not going to push the boundaries of the classification process, bluntly warning Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein that “I would not anticipate many such cases given the fact-intensive nature of [these] opinions.”
Time will tell. But at least we now know a bit more about the leader of the gang that determines our privacy. Putting that in the open is stage one.