Look up: that buzz you hear overhead is the "drone court."
Washington's idea of the week is a secret court, based on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which issues secret wiretap warrants in certain espionage cases. Executive officials would go before the drone court and present their evidence that an individual abroad, perhaps a U.S. citizen, is an Al Qaeda affiliate and an imminent danger. Judges on the panel would issue, in effect, a secret death warrant--a certification that lethal force can be used against the "enemy combatant."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke favorably about the idea at confirmation hearings for C.I.A. Director-designate John Brennan. So did former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Thursday, theNew York Timesjoined in the chorus.
Americans love courts and judges. But they trust them because, in our system, they are independent of elected officials--not part of the political machine. They are also what lawyers call "courts of limited jurisdiction." In carefully chosen language, Article III of the Constitution extends "the judicial power" of the United States to a specific and limited set of "cases and controversies." Federal courts decide cases; they do not fight wars, collect the garbage, or set health-care policy. And most particularly, they may not become an advisory agency of the executive branch.
The idea of a "drone court" would send federal courts into areas they have never gone before, and indeed from which, I think, the text of the Constitution bars them. It could also put the integrity of our court system at risk.