The Hearing You Are About to See Is Only a Test

Posted March 21, 2007 at 3:37pm

A Congressional oversight committee led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will hear testimony today concerning the reauthorization of controversial NSA wiretaps. White House Counsel Fred Fielding, ACLU lawyer Aziz Huq and embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will appear before the committee, along with professors Michael Glennon and John Yoo.

Well, not really.

Congress is going to look a few decades younger when students from Tufts University and the U.S. Military and Naval academies replace the normal cast of characters in a mock committee hearing. It is the second event in a partnership between Tufts’ Institute for Global Leadership and the Law Library of Congress called the National Security and Civil Liberties Program. Past programs have included a mock Senate hearing regarding the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act and a seminar on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The debate will focus on the use of inherent presidential powers, the sources of these powers and how much the exercise of them hurts the Constitution and undermines legislative and judicial checks,” said Louis Fisher, a specialist in separation of powers with the Congressional Research Service at the LOC. Fisher, who will play Leahy, is one of two non-students taking part in the hearing.

Not confined to a divided, team-based format, students from each institution applied for their places individually, resulting in a few potentially interesting juxtapositions between them and their roles: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Specter are both played by women, while a cadet from West Point will assume the role of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

“Some students choose to take roles that align with their own ideological beliefs, others want to challenge themselves,” said Sherman Teichman, executive director for the IGL who will become Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) for the hearing.

Though students research for their roles and are required to play to their particular part, there still is plenty of political room for committee members to make their own decisions regarding the policies in question, Teichman added. “A Republican Member could choose to back the president 100 percent or stray slightly for perfectly valid reasons,” Teichman said.

The mock hearing aims to increase students’ connection to government and knowledge of its procedures, a primary goal of the IGL and its program, Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services.

“I myself, who lived through the Vietnam era, did not want students today to feel the same distance and estrangement from their leaders that was common then,” Teichman said.

The mock Congressional committee oversight hearing will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Montpelier Room of the James Madison Building at the Library of Congress. Admission is free and open to the public, but reservations must be made through the LOC at 202-707-9838.