Sen. Feingold Urges “Concrete Steps” to Restore Rule of Law

In a December 10 letter to President-elect Obama, Sen. Russ Feingold urged the next Administration to take a series of specific measures to strengthen the rule of law.  Distilled from the record (pdf) of a September 16 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject, the recommendations addressed four topics in particular:  separation of powers, excessive government secrecy, detention and interrogation policy, and domestic surveillance.

The letter’s recommendations on combating excessive government secrecy included brief reference to a proposal stressed by the Federation of American Scientists for a fundamental review of agency classification guides to eliminate obsolete or unnecessary classification instructions.

Establishing such a review may be even more important than revising the executive order on classification or rescinding of the Ashcroft policy on FOIA, both desirable steps but which are only loosely coupled to daily secrecy decisions.  By comparison, revising agency classification guides — which specify what information shall be classified at what level — and updating them to eliminate spurious secrecy requirements would have immediate favorable consequences for agency practice, particularly since many classification guides have not been reviewed for years.  (See “Overcoming Overclassification,” Secrecy News, September 16, 2008.)