Rand Paul v Barack Obama: A prelude to 2016

Story highlights

  • Rand Paul filed a class action suit against President Obama over surveillance
  • Paul has ambitions for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination
  • He is asking for suit participants' email addresses through his PAC

Rand Paul v. Barack H. Obama.

That's the name of a lawsuit the Kentucky senator announced Wednesday against President Barack Obama and national security officials over government surveillance.

"We don't do this out of disrespect to anyone we do this out of respect to the Constitution," Paul said at a news conference.

Paul's class-action suit, filed in federal court in Washington, was spurred by Edward Snowden's public disclosure last year that the NSA had gathered information on nearly every telephone call made in the United States since 2006.

At a news conference, Paul called the legal challenge "an important first step" to ending the program that sweeps up numbers and other information known as metadata.

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With the suit, the son of Libertarian hero Ron Paul, who captured the hearts and minds of millions during his two presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, is rounding out his political persona through his Libertarian roots and adding another spoonful of political savvy.

Paul v Candidate X

    Paul v Obama in 2014 could be an effective way of helping Paul v the Democratic candidate in 2016, if he runs for President.

    Read the suit

    It's no secret that Paul is considering such a step, but nothing's official yet.

    "I keep looking at my schedule and I see New Hampshire, I see Iowa, I see South Carolina and I don't understand why I keep going to these states." Paul said Sunday about the three key nominating states on Dallas TV station KXAS's program "Lone Star Politics," according to the Dallas Morning News.

    Paul has crossover appeal on issues of war and national security that might help him down the road.

    According to a January poll by Quinnipiac, 48% of American support the phone surveillance program and 47% oppose. Similarly, 48% say it's necessary to keep Americans safe and 46% think it's not necessary. Additional polls show the split does not cut along party lines.

    And Paul's lawsuit is bursting with politics.

    Signed on to Paul's lawsuit is anti-establishment political organization FreedomWorks. Representing them is Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's firebrand former attorney general, who lost his bid in November to be Virginia's governor.

    Paul is also promoting the suit through his political action committee, RandPAC, and while he said the legal move could impact hundreds of millions of people, he is asking 10 million of them to sign on to the class-action suit through his website.

    Asking for email addresses of class-action participants could be an effective way to increase a list of campaign supporters.

    "Senator Paul can tap into those that are angry at the NSA and use the large number of class action participants to fundraise for a potential 2016 presidential run," Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said.

    In a CNN op-ed, Paul stayed away from politics and stuck to the policy prescription.

    "It's time to hold government officials accountable for their habitual trampling on the Constitution and on our rights as individuals," he wrote.

    Opinion: Stop the NSA while we still can

    Crossover appeal

    While Paul's criticism of the government's surveillance programs has rankled both Democrats and Republicans who believe the program keeps Americans safe, he is also receiving bipartisan support.

    Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said Paul's suit follows his principles of limited government.

    "I think it first and foremost is practical and necessary that we define the role of the NSA in terms of the Fourth Amendment in terms of today's modern technology," Martin said, praising Paul.

    On the other end of the political spectrum, the American Civil Liberties Union said it generally agrees with Paul's efforts to rein in the program.

    "We agree with his view of the program and hope it will bring an end" to the surveillance program, Patrick Toomey, an ACLU staff attorney, said.

    The ACLU also filed its own lawsuit six months ago against the program and hosted a day of action on Tuesday that resulted in 266,000 calls and emails to members of Congress opposing the mass surveillance program created to boost U.S. counterterror abilities.

    Paul gained national attention during a 13-hour filibuster last year of John Brennan, the nominee to lead the CIA when he also received praise from both conservatives and liberals.

    And after he announced his suit Wednesday, Paul had lunch to discuss restoring voting rights to ex felons, an issue that Paul has also drawn attention to and also crosses political ideologies.

    Hurdles

    The efficacy of the suit is challenging, said legal analyst Alan Dershowitz.

    "It's a serious legal issue," Dershowitz said on CNN's "Wolf," adding that the issue will likely reach the Supreme Court but not via Paul's suit because of it's difficult to show that people were harmed by the surveillance.

    "This is more of a political action than an action that has a chance of succeeding on its merits."