One key theme of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster speeches was that the filibuster was about reinforcing the advise and consent function of the Senate against the Executive. There was quite a bit of discussion going on in my social media corners about how Congress should stand up to the President more – regardless of who is in power. In general, it got people talking about the limitations of government and how government should be effectively run. It was all rather refreshing to watch.
But that got me thinking about another nomination process issue that has been overlooked. The last couple of weeks, folks have been talking about the fact that unlocking your cell phone is now a felony with a penalty of up to 5 years in jail. Yes, 5 years in jail for wanting switch cell phone carriers. Who the hell made that decision? Well, the Librarian of Congress, James Hadley Billington, is ultimately charged with the task.
That got me looking up just who the hell the Librarian of Congress thinks he is if he is ultimately tasked with making regulatory decisions that make people who want to switch cell phone companies into felons. He was nominated in 1987, more than 10 years before the DMCA would even become law and leave such decisions up to the Library of Congress. He was approved on a voice vote, and the issue of his nomination has never been revisited again as far as I can tell in a few searches of Thomas. I would argue that once a man is given such power, it would probably be wise to haul him in for questions about how he plans to do with his new authority to make Americans using common technology into felons, and maybe revisit who should have this role.
Of course, some might argue that because I was using a pretty handy tool of the Library of Congress to do some digging on the Librarian of Congress, maybe the Library just stepped out of bounds on this one issue. Well, as Reason highlighted this week, a retired guy with just a high school diploma and some computers has created a database of historic newspapers with 22 million newspaper pages with just the expense of some equipment he bought himself and an internet connection. Meanwhile, the project to do the very same thing that Billington has created costs taxpayers $3 a page and only managed to archive 5 million newspaper pages. Even with the credibility of the Library of Congress behind it, Billington’s historic newspaper project sees less than half of the traffic of the archive of an amateur.
I guess with all of the enthusiasm that accompanied Rand Paul’s reminder of Senate checks and balances, I wonder if questioning past appointments who haven’t faced nomination scrutiny in more than a quarter of a century will ever be on the table. In the case of the Library of Congress, there are clearly questions about their copyright policies if Americans can become felons for wanting to unlock the cell phones they legally purchased and there are also clearly some questions about smart spending of resources. Maybe it’s time to again question the authority of someone who has been in power with little oversight for 26 years.