We Don’t Have “Star Chamber” Courts In This Country… Except We Do

“star–cham·ber adjective \ˈstär-ˈchām-bər\ : characterized by secrecy and often being irresponsibly arbitrary and oppressive.”   http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/star-chamber

The original Star Chamber was an English court that operated from the 14th into the 17th Centuries, until 1641. Its original goal was to assure that even the privileged met justice in a fair manner. It operated in secret, didn’t require indictments, allowed no witnesses, and all “evidence” was presented in writing. It devolved into a political weapon wielded by the monarchy against their enemies, and was ultimately abolished by Parliament with the enactment of the Habeas Corpus Act.

Those of you who are familiar with my scribbling know I hold the Oval Office’s current resident, Liar-In-Chief Obama, in utter and indescribable contempt. Recently we’ve been subjected to an absolute avalanche of scandals, piling up so quickly that you couldn’t stay above them if you sprouted wings.

The latest, at least as of my writing this, is that the National Security Agency (NSA) – also known as No Such Agency (an insider joke based on its secrecy) – has been monitoring the emails and phone calls of Americans on a massive scale. The full breadth of this Big Brother activity is still unfolding; almost hourly, it seems. Obama and his minions are in full damage control mode. Though it’s certainly tempting to lay this whole debacle at his feet – and the current intrusive scale probably is his responsibility – he’s right in one thing he says in his defense: that the program is “overseen by federal judges”.

th[4] (2)The problem is this: under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), particularly as amended under Bush by the Patriot Act of 2001 and extended by Obama, these courts function in complete secrecy, their records are not accessible by the public in any way, their proceedings are all classified, their power is extremely wide-reaching and broadly defined, and they almost never deny any application for a warrant.

As far as I’m concerned, this meets the definition of a “star chamber”. Throw in the near-universal spying on the activities of law-abiding citizens and you have the “arbitrary and oppressive” abuse thrown in for good measure.

Our system of government is based on several fundamental principles, one of which is that our courts function in public, ensuring their fairness, which can be verified by the citizenry using their own eyes and ears. There are certain narrowly-defined exceptions that occasionally justify in camera sessions, such as the protection of the identities of minors, but those exceptions are rare. Though our Grand Juries use secret proceedings, they’re composed of citizen members, not government-employed judges. The FISA courts operate in complete secrecy, and are a corruption of our liberty; we’re supposed to “trust” the government itself to oversee its own operations in a manner that doesn’t threaten that liberty.

Please. That doesn’t even pass the snigger test. We’ve recently seen how well that’s been working out. IRS abuses, anyone? Fast & Furious? Benghazi? … Bueller?

The Founders must be rolling over in their graves.

© Brian Baker 2013

35 comments on “We Don’t Have “Star Chamber” Courts In This Country… Except We Do

  1. Gunny G says:

    The Founders would have already started shooting!

    Just read where the DepDir for the CIA resigned. The rats are jumping ship.

    • BrianR says:

      Yeah, they sure as hell would have.

      And yeah, again. I’m not surprised that they’re starting to bail.I guess they see the oncoming bus, and don’t want to find themselves under it. Smart move, given Obozo’s history of doing exactly that to anyone who falls out of favor. I suspect we’re going to start seeing a lot more of it, too.

  2. Buck says:

    On Rush today a lady said the NSA was violating law from the git-go because their surveyllance was limited, by law, to outside CONUS.
    I do remember back in the ’60’s sometime the CIA was drawn up short and told it could do no operations within the country but I don’t know about NSA. Shidt! I’m not sure I even remember the NSA back then…

    • BrianR says:

      CIA’s charter limits its ops to being overseas. I’m not sure about NSA, either……. No Such Agency, remember?

  3. clyde says:

    Excellent post,Brian. Agree with Gunny, the Founders damn sure would NOT have let THIS shit slide. We shall see WHO steps up and calls for abolition of this “agency”, whose existence, AFAIC, is solely to punish political enemies, no matter who, or how many, or whatever laws must be broken to do it. While I don’t believe Bush was targeting political foes,, there is absolutely NO doubt in my mind this bunch is.

    • BrianR says:

      Thanks, Clyde.

      Again, I’m not really focused on who’s using it now or for what. The whole premise that this agency — or any other — can operate in this secret fashion is an absolute travesty and violation of our basic principles. Even if THIS group wasn’t abusing it — and they certainly were — some other group somewhere down the line ultimately would. That’s simply the nature of secret government organizations: they ALWAYS end up being used oppressively.

      I was against this back when FISA was first established, I was against it when the Patriot Act came down the pike because it’s loaded with this kind of secret and unaccountable power that’s rife for abuse, and I’m still against it now, because my point has now been proven.

      “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely” — Acton. Any secret government agency with no accountability has “absolute power”.

  4. CW says:

    Great essay, Brian!

    I hope you’ll indulge me if I take this opportunity to point out that the Right is upset about gov’t snooping because they worry about innocent people being tyrannized while the Left is more worried about protecting the guilty (because it’s them).

    Now that they have one of the clearest and most undeniable examples of Obama hypocrisy staring them in the face do you suppose any on the Left will finally admit what a fraud they elected? Nah.

    It’s all good until the fraud comes back to bite you.

  5. Nee says:

    Several things here, Brian. One, I supported the initial Patriot Act and now it seems I am a fool. Obama did try to paint Bush as evil for passing it in the ensuing aftermath of 9/11 during his campaign and said he would “protect us. IMO, Bush did not abuse it or the powers of his office and other agencies to sway political outcome. I forever believe the bigger picture was that Bush would still protect America and especially now that the rest of the idiots can see what Obama is made of.
    2. In the scheme of the bigger picture is that Americans on both sides should be so fucking pissed that they are being spied on, that it creates the “United we stand” sort of mindset. But thus far the MFM has said in no uncertain terms that As long as it’s Obama doing it…I didn’t prescribe to the aloof interpretations or the invasions as they are today…so why is it that no Congress person is calling for something drastic? Why is it they continue to hold themselves above the law? Until they fire every goddamn indivdual guilty of lawbreaking to include the Pied Piper, I laugh in the face of the words, “Justice Prevails”!
    3. If the American People don’t stand ready, then get ready. Because life as they know it is about to become sterile.

    Let. them. Burn. For when the government abuses the power of the people, it underestimates the power the people still hold en masse.

    • BrianR says:

      Nee, a LOT of people supported the Patriot Act, so I wouldn’t beat myself up. I’m sure you have a much more optimistic view of human nature than I do.

      That having been said, as you wrote it’ll be interesting to see what happens NOW. The cat’s out of the bag. What’s the response going to be? The abuse is plain for all to see. Has Obozo abused it? Yep. Will it be abused again in the future if not fixed? Yep. Will GOPers abuse it? Yep. Without a doubt.

      This isn’t a partisan issue to me. And history has proven that members of BOTH parties abuse power. Nixon shines as an example.

      So… what’s going to happen?

      • Nee says:

        I wish I knew. I was planning on going to DC next Wednesday to stand up against the IRS BS…but it is going to be about both now!
        Glenn Beck said he had information that could bring down the Admin and Congress. I would surely pay attention to see if this is true. He apparently talked w Ted Cruz…whoever has this info is afraid to come forward because he believes they would kill him….so someone suggested he do it in a COngressional Hearing. I can’t even what could be that powerful.

      • BrianR says:

        Who knows? I have a tendency to take Beck’s claims with a pretty big boulder of salt; he’s pretty hyperbolic.

  6. thedrpete says:

    The nexus, BrianR, is in your words, “Recently we’ve been subjected to an absolute avalanche of scandals, piling up so quickly that you couldn’t stay above them if you sprouted wings.” The system is being overwhelmed . . . intentionally and skillfully.

    A coup is happening, employing Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and Cloward & Piven. While your eyes swivel in your head trying to keep track of the scandals and emergencies, the ACA implementation is rolling out, hundreds of pages of rules and regs daily. Amnesty is approaching while few watch it.

    • BrianR says:

      Not only Obamacare, DrP. Amnesty, too. That’s not getting nearly the attention it should. The amnestists may be able to sneak that one kind of under the radar while all this is going on. Then this country’s finished.

  7. Grey Neely says:


    I am still stockpiling food, medical supplies, ammo, and anything else i CAN THINK OF. With the news coming out that the only places not being actively “snooped” are muslim mosques, I am starting to get the same kind of feelings that the boys at the Alamo had on the afternoon of March 5, 1836. I thank God that I live in a small city in a “dirtwater” part of the country.

    I am also thinking of taking up knitting.

    • BrianR says:

      Or, the other alternative is to declare yourself a Muslim, of course.

      • Grey Neely says:


        I really don’t consider that an alternative (i.e., declaring myself a muslim). I prefer an “Alamo” senario over “chickening out” to save my own hide. I made that decision over 40 years ago; there are some things a man must be willing to die before doing.

        However, performing my own imitation of Madame Defarge while the politicians, liberals, socialists, and muslims are carried by millions of upset Americans to a place of execution might be interesting.

      • BrianR says:

        Um, yeah………

        That was an attempt at humor. I guess it was funnier in my head….

  8. Nee says:

    Grey- I am with you. There was a pastor on a show around two years ago who asked If one is a convicted person, would they be willing to die for those convictions? Absolutely. It may or may not change anything, but I will not be beholden to any government brownshirt in the United States of AMerica.

    • Grey Neely says:

      Thanks Nee. You know BrianR feels the same way as I do, he is just too much of a gentleman to say it in a “hard” fashion as I do as a Mississippian. And perhaps it will not change a thing (like you said); however, I hope that I can make my ancestors proud. The ones who fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War (both sides), WW1, WW2, Korea, and Viet Nam.

      • BrianR says:

        Not too much of a “gentleman”. I just try to keep a tone of moderation; I don’t want to overly influence the flow of conversation here.

  9. AfterShock says:

    Our nation, was “fundamentally transformed” some 150 years ago. The 14th amendment and subsequent amendments to the Constitution made it possible for the Fed Gov to render our natural rights and individual sovereignty legally alienable by extending the raw powers of Federal exclusive jurisdiction over external borders, Washington D.C., Military installations, insular possessions, Guam and Puerto Rico where a star-chamber court can exist, to every state of the union and over every resident therein. The Obama administration is simply the first believing it possible to fully utilize that jurisdiction to complete the bloodless coup d’eta which has been under way — albeit piecemeal — ever since the Civil War.

    • BrianR says:

      Good points, but I don’t think star chamber courts only exist in the exurbs. I think the FISA courts qualify, and they’re based on the mainland.

      As you say, this country’s in deep doo-doo.

      • AfterShock says:

        FISA courts apply to the mainland only in the case where there exists a foreign component i.e. a verified threat from a foreign sourced enemy where there exists a US counterpart. I agree with you that the FISA court IS a star chamber court but it is being used unconstitutionally when it grants — and in secret to boot — warrants to spy indiscriminately on American Citizens. That is happening in my opinion because the we are no longer living — from the Fed Gov’s perspective — in the several sovereign states (federalism) rather, we live in the sovereignty of the UNITED STATES, centralism as exerted over Washington D.C. and the Fed’s subsidiary possessions.

        As an aside to all that, I think it’s a curious coincidence when juxtaposed with your report that the original star chamber courts operated from the 14th through 17th centuries, that the constitutional amendments most responsible for the “fundamental transformation” of America are the 14th through the 17th.

      • BrianR says:

        Hmmmm…. okay, I think you’re splitting hairs. Yes, under the original FISA act there has to be a “foreign component”, but that’s not really the thrust of my essay. Maybe I wasn’t as clear as I thought.

        My key point here is that a law can be written to achieve virtually ANY goal, with all kinds of limitations, but when there’s no effective oversight and/or safeguard against abuse, that mechanism can be perverted to abuse. And that’s my point here.

        We’ve learned that the NSA is essentially eavesdropping on EVERYONE in the country, and Obozo’s excuse is that it’s “supervised” by a bunch of unaccountable judges. That, to me, is HUGELY problematic. Who’s policing the police, in this case? Where’s the civilian oversight? This is the fox guarding the henhouse, as far as I can see. It is absolutely the kind of system that has historically led to the institution of tyranny.

        Hitler’s rise to power was completely ratified by the German judicial system of the period. Even though the Soviet Union had a Constitution that was actually very admirable, a complicit judicial system made the USSR’s abuses possible. History’s lessons abound.

        That’s actually the point I wrote about.

  10. AfterShock says:

    I understood your point Brian and agree with you. I don’t think your essay was/is unclear, I am the one unable to fully articulate the nexus between jurisdiction of FISA and the general loss of liberty/federalism over the past century or so. and at any rate it’s really a moot point, The Article three courts are as corrupt as the other two branches of government and we are going to be under the tyranny thereof for the foreseeable future. There are no checks and balances unless congress and the judicial branch uphold their respective oaths of office to perform that duty.

    It’s all so damned depressing as millions of fools –our own countrymen– refuse to see, let alone care, about the truth. They will need to experience the full reality of a totalitarian government before they even begin to demand a change. But by then it will not come IMO without a bloody fight. And no, I do not want that to be the case, just sayin’ history repeats just as surely as any cycle in the universe, and it’s often not pretty.

  11. ProudMarineDad says:

    The fact of the matter is that Obama is doing the right thing.

    Just now, Obama thwarted yet another terrorist attack by the Muslim hordes.

    I used to be a Bush supporter.

    But I now realize that Obama, by being proactive, is actually keeping us safer.

    I’m tired of Paulbots whining about civil liberties.

    Hey – you guys lost!

    Why don’t you explain your “constitutional rights” to my son?

    He would shake your hand…. except he no longer has one.

    • BrianR says:

      “Paulbots”? I always thought Ron Paul was a nut, so that’s your first wrong ASSumption, right there.

      “Obama is doing the right thing”? Well, that says a mouthful about you. I don’t think the empty suit in the Oval Office has done one thing right since he showed up for the first time in the Senate.

      “Just now, Obama thwarted yet another terrorist attack by the Muslim hordes.” He did? I guess there’s a news blackout on that, since I haven’t heard a thing about it. Weird, since Obozo’s a glory hog to put Donald Trump to shame.

      “Why don’t you explain your ‘constitutional rights’ to my son? He would shake your hand…. except he no longer has one.”

      Be happy to. Judging by the drivel you’ve written here, he probably needs some guidance if he paid any attention to you.

      Further, being a war vet myself, I don’t defer any moral authority to anyone else just because they went to war. So did I, and I took my chances. Just like your son did. I have plenty of friends who weren’t even as lucky as your son. Their names can be read on that black Wall in DC.

      Anything else?

  12. AfterShock says:

    Proud of what PMD? That your son’s commander in chief left two Navy SEALs and an entire diplomatic compound full of civilians to die but for the sacrifice of the two SEALs? All while he, the definitely lower-case potus, was off taking a nap and couldn’t be bothered? Perhaps he thought it a good time to do a little refer, smoke a little crack and shoot some hoops or plan another vacation. Maybe he was down at the NSA gettin a few voyeuristic yucks listening in on the private conversations of American citizens, or siccing the IRS on Patriots that believe the purpose of our Federal government and its’ military, is to uphold the constitution so to preserve and defend our individual liberty. Oh and BTW PMD, the rights we enjoy are natural, an endowment to us from our creator i.e. nature’s God. They are not “constitutional” and no one here would ever say our rights are “constitutional”. Only a fool would believe that in a country created on the ideal of maximum individual liberty, one should be willing to compromise away that liberty for more and more government control of his or her life. And, come to think of it, only a moron would enlist in the armed services to defend such a notion, with all due respect to your son who isn’t here to speak for himself.

  13. clyde says:

    I guess “doing the right thing” makes your poll numbers drop like a rock, eh, PMD ?. For an “esteemed” member of Nobel Peace Prize awardees, such as Yasser Arafat, he sure has put the military into a LOT of “non-war” wars. Syria being the latest example. If this were to be Bush, or Romney, or any repub, you’d be having a conniption over it, you know it, and so do we. Thanks for playing.

  14. The Dumplin says:

    GREAT commentary. Recently I was ranting about so many of our judges not ruling according to the law. The attorney I was speaking with basically patted me on the head and said that I needed to understand ‘Judicial Discretion’. There is a lot of that going on lately.

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