US President George W. Bush on Friday predicted that an appeals court would ultimately overturn a decision this week declaring his warrantless wiretapping program illegal, and he said that "those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live."
"I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree," Bush said of a ruling issued on Thursday by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, a US District Court judge in Detroit, in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The decision quickly became a political football, as the Republican National Committee sought to play off the ruling to rally supporters.
In a "Dear Republican" letter, the committee pointed out that the decision was issued by a "Democratic-appointed judge."
"If you are outraged by this latest development, will you sign the petition against this decision weakening the tools we need to fight the war on terror?" the letter asked.
But Democrats and some legal scholars said they regarded the decision by Taylor, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, as an important affirmation of the separation of powers and limits on presidential authority even in a time of war.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the decision affirmed his view that the wiretapping program was illegal.
Leahy described the program as "another unfortunate example of how White House misdirection, arrogance and mismanagement have needlessly complicated our goal of protecting the American people."
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, did not comment directly on Taylor's decision but said Republican efforts to "divert people's attention" from what he described as the Bush administration's missteps on foreign policy would not work.
"The bottom line is that most Americans fundamentally believe that you can give the president all the tools he needs to protect us and at the same time uphold the rule of law," Schumer said. "There's only a very few in the administration who don't hold that view."
In her ruling, Taylor said that the wiretapping program, which allows the National Security Agency to wiretap the international communications of US citizens suspected of ties to terrorism without a court warrant, violated both the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as a 1978 law restricting the use of intelligence wiretaps.
Nor, her ruling stated in ordering a stop to the program, did a 2001 measure in Congress authorizing the use of military force in Afghanistan give the president power to conduct wiretaps without a warrant.
"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly when his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," she wrote. "The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another."
In a view echoed by other legal experts interviewed on Friday, Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University who specializes in separation of powers issues, said he agreed with Taylor's ultimate determination but took issue with elements of her legal analysis, including her reading of constitutional law.
"I agree very strongly that the president's national security powers are not sufficient in this area to defy Congress' express determination," Shane said. "I just wish she had written it more carefully."