Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about the constitutionality of domestic drone strikes on U.S. citizens Wednesday, keeping his eye on the Constitution in a way few lawmakers are able to do.
Discussing Holder’s letter to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) saying the administration may consider a domestic drone strike on U.S. citizens, Cruz began by laying out a hypothetical scenario for the attorney general.
If a U.S. citizen whom the administration strongly believes to be a terrorist threat is sitting quietly at a cafe in the United States– not posing an imminent threat of death or bodily harm– does the Constitution allow a drone to kill that citizen?
“I would not think that that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force. We would deal with that in a way we would typically deal with a situation like that–” Holder began to respond.
Cruz interrupted: “With all due respect…my question wasn’t about ‘appropriateness’ or prosecutorial discretion, it was a simple legal question. Does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, who doesn’t pose an imminent threat, to be killed by the U.S. government?”
“I do not believe that — again, you have to look at all of the facts,” Holder prevaricated. “On the facts you have given me, this is a hypothetical, I would not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate because–.”
“General Holder, I have to tell you that I find it remarkable that in that hypothetical, which is deliberately very simple, that you are able to give a simple one-word, one-syllable answer: no,” Cruz stated. “I think it is unequivocal that if the U.S. government were to use a drone to take the life of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil and that individual didn’t pose an imminent threat, that that would be a deprivation of life without due process.”
Holder hit back by saying he didn’t think any lethal force– whether it be drones, guns, etc. — would be “appropriate” in such a situation, but Cruz didn’t let up.
Speaking slowly and clearly, Cruz reminded: “You keep saying appropriate. My question isn’t about propriety. My question is about whether something is constitutional or not. As attorney general, you are the chief legal officer of the United States. Do you have a legal judgement on whether it would be constitutional to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil in those circumstances?”
Watch Holder’s response and the rest of the tense exchange via Mediaite, below: