Ryan Looks to Overseas Law? With the Federalists?

No one in the San Francisco Federalist Society audience on Tuesday took visible umbrage when a speech by U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan Society brushed awfully close to a maxim championed by more liberal lawyers: that our federal government can look to the opinions of foreign courts for guidance.

It was less shocking when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told a San Francisco audience Monday night that an increasing number of other countries “have similar problems, similar people, similar text; why not read it?? That view tends to be frowned upon by conservatives, who say the Supreme Court’s job is to read only the U.S. Constitution. But that didn’t stop Ryan, a Republican, from bringing up an Israeli court opinion in a speech defending the Patriot Act to a predictably sympathetic audience.

As a democracy, Ryan said — paraphrasing an opinion on Israeli officials’ use of force — the U.S. must “fight with one hand tied behind its back.? The value placed on personal liberties, he added, prevents the government from using many of its foes’ tactics. No argument from any of the audience there, nor with Ryan’s list of rather standard points of support for the Patriot Act — that the government was able to exercise many of its powers already, that it tears down a troublesome wall between prosecutors and intelligence agencies, and that it’s necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks. To that end, he said, the government has been successful.

“This is due in large part to the effects of men and women in law enforcement,? he said. But “we should not be lulled into a false sense of security.?

The speech ended in applause from the audience of 55 or so, who were happy to chat with the top prosecutor and discuss their own thoughts on terrorism — that closing the U.S. borders, for example, would be a good idea — on their way out.

— Justin Scheck


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