James Madison 'aghast'? Virginia scholars chuckle

(WJLA) – A fairly notable Virginian made international news a couple of days ago.

James Madison.

The fourth President of the United States. One of the chief framers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The namesake of a certain university two hours west of D.C. in Harrisonburg.

His name was invoked by none other than U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who ruled Monday that the National Security Agency’s tracking of nearly all U.S. phone calls almost certainly is unconstitutional.

In doing so, Leon opined that he has “little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast (by the practice).”

Asked whether Madison indeed would have been aghast, two political scholars and authors who teach at Virginia universities had telling, tongue-in-cheek responses.

Consider the words of James Madison University political science professor Robert Roberts.

“I expect Madison would be terribly worried over the extent of the NSA to intercept communications with almost every American,” he said, “due largely to his fear of the power of the English King.”

Then there was Virginia Tech political science professor Charles Walcott, who deadpanned that Madsion “would have a steep learning curve” when it comes to electronic surveillance.

“(But) that actually raises a serious point: the notions of privacy (implied, of course) and liberty embedded in the Constitution are products of the world of the 18th century -- before the internet, before organized, technologically sophisticated terrorism,” Walcott said. “At their core these principles may be timeless, but their application to the circumstances of the 21st century is certainly open to debate and interpretation.

“. . . I don't think that consulting or referencing the Framers sheds much light on these issues. But -- short answer -- yes, he would be appalled.”