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Yoo on Padilla v. Yoo - Part Deux:

John Yoo has a second op-ed on the Jose Padilla's lawsuit against him, this one in the Wall Street Journal.

The lawsuit by Padilla and his Yale Law School lawyers is an effort to open another front against U.S. anti-terrorism policies. If he succeeds, it won't be long before opponents of the war on terror use the courtroom to reverse the wartime measures needed to defeat those responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on 9/11. . . .

Worrying about personal liability will distort the thinking of federal officials, who should be focusing on the costs and benefits of their decisions to the nation as a whole, not to their own pockets. Even in the wake of Watergate, the Supreme Court recognized that government decisions should not be governed by the tort bar.

In a case about warrantless national security wiretaps ordered by Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, the court declared that executive branch officials should benefit from qualified immunity. Officials cannot be sued personally unless they had intentionally violated someone's clearly established constitutional rights.

The Padilla case shows that qualified immunity is not enough. Even though Supreme Court precedent clearly permitted Padilla's detention, he and his academic supporters can still file harassing lawsuits that promise high attorneys' fees. The legal system should not be used as a bludgeon against individuals targeted by political activists to impose policy preferences they have failed to implement via the ballot box.

The prospect of having to waste large sums of money on lawyers will deter talented people from entering public service, leading to more mediocrity in our bureaucracies. It will also lead to a risk-averse government that doesn't innovate or think creatively. Government by lawsuit is no way to run, or win, a war.

This time Yoo wisely avoids comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln, and the result is a more serious contribution to the discussion of Padilla v. Yoo and its implications.

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