Judge Resigns from Surveillance Court

He's keeping quiet so far, but it appears a federal judge has resigned an appointed post in disagreement over President Bush's authorization of a domestic spy program.

The resignation comes as the president and the program come under more scrutiny from lawmakers and Americans alike.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson was one of 11 members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as FISA, until he sent his letter of resignation to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts today. The Washington Post reported that the letter gave no reason for the resignation but said it was in protest over the president's secret authorization of the warrantless domestic spying program.

"This was definitely a statement of protest," said Scott Silliman, a former Air Force attorney and Duke University law professor. "It is unusual because it signifies that at least one member of the court believes that the president has exceeded his legal authority."

The White House won't discuss Robertson's resignation or the reasons cited for his departure.

"Judge Robertson did not comment on the matter, and I don't see any reason why we need to," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

Robertson Critical in Past

FISA was established by Congress in 1978. Its members are appointed by the chief justice, and they do their work in private. It is the court's job to oversee government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.

President Clinton appointed Robertson to the federal bench in 1994. He was later selected by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist to serve on the FISA court.

Robertson has criticized the Bush administration's treatment of detainees at the U.S. naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was especially critical of a decision that sidetracked the president's system of military tribunals to put some detainees on trial.

Ruth Wedgewood, a Johns Hopkins University professor and defender of many Bush administration policies in the terror war, noted that service on the special court is voluntary.

"If Judge Robertson had strong feelings that he thought would interfere with the needed objectivity," Wedgewood said, "one could understand his decision."

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